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4 consumer buying trends for 2021 - how to stay ahead of the curve

June 7, 2021

Meeting customer expectations is vital for any business to succeed, and to do that you need to keep up with the latest changes to customer buying habits. That’s why this guide is all about  2021 consumer buying trends that can help you stay ahead of the curve and offer your customers a modern buying experience. 

Predicting the latest trends

Experts rush to predict trends for the coming 12 months in the retail space at the beginning of every year. Some of these suggestions stick, going on to become integral parts of the customer experience. Others don’t quite hit the mark and fall by the wayside. 

We are almost halfway through 2021, which means it’s a great time to look at the trends of this year and see how they have fared so far. From the impact of Covid to the rise of flexible finance, let’s look at the consumer buying trends of 2021.  

The Covid effect

2021 will be a year like no other when it comes to predicting buying trends. Everything comes with a huge Covid asterisk attached, as retailers try to understand how the pandemic has changed buying habits and whether those changes are temporary or will be long-lasting. 

The pandemic also poses further challenges on the retail industry, even as lockdowns ease and physical stores open their doors again. Companies are increasingly needing to shift to an online operation, as the ecommerce boom during Covid has revealed.

The final quarter of 2020 saw online sales grown by 39 per cent and 37 per cent in November and December, with digital sales growing by an overall 36 per cent for the year. The result was the highest growth for online shopping in 13 years. Therefore, we can expect an increasingly digital future even as the world resumes some kind of normality.

4 consumer buying trends for 2021

Flexible finance

Merchants can increase their online offering by using alternative payment methods for flexible finance solutions. There has been a surge in demand for alternative finance during Covid, with options like buy now, pay later proving to be particularly popular. 

Consumer spending habits are changing, and alternative payment methods have become one of the significant consumer buying trends of this year. Buy now, pay later, for example, has become the fastest-growing online payment trend, accounting for more than five per cent of all digital transactions.

With options like buy now, pay later, online digital credit, and multi-lender options, merchants using alternative payment methods can give themselves an advantage by offering more flexibility to customers. Most importantly, you will appeal to key buying demographics like millennials and Generation Z, who favour alternative payment methods when buying online.

Goodbye to cash payments?

Ecommerce may be going from strength to strength, but physical shopping still has a role to play in retail. It might just take on a different guise in the coming years. One of the trends already taking shape is that of cash payment – or the lack thereof. 

Half of all payments are currently made by card, and it’s predicted that cash payments will reduce to just nine per cent of all transactions by 2028. In its place comes an increasing dependence on contactless payments. 

Covid has played a role, with many physical stores refusing to take cash during the height of the pandemic. However, contactless payments were already the preferred choice for consumers pre-Covid, and the recent increase in payments caps reflects our growing dependence on using cash alternatives in-store.

More focus on omnichannel 

The omnichannel experience continues to feature on trending lists at the start of every year. Again, the Covid effect has only heightened the need for omnichannel options to provide consumers with a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re buying online, on a social media channel, with their mobile or in brick and mortar stores. 

A report found that the number of businesses investing in omnichannel has jumped from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. And with 73 per cent of all customers currently using multiple channels for their buying habits, it’s easy to see why omnichannel continues to grow at such a pace.

So whether your customer is using the company Instagram page or browsing in the store, the experience should be the same for them. That’s the power of omnichannel, and it holds the key to providing a genuinely fluid customer experience. 

Improved chatbots

Over the last few years, the appearance of chatbots has become a common theme on websites. Chatbots can play a key role in the sales process, even if it’s just connecting someone with the right salesperson. 

Today, chatbots can cut operational costs by 30 per cent, and by 2022 it’s estimated that 90 per cent of shopping interactions will involve a chatbot in some capacity. The reason? Because consumers like chatbots, with 60 per cent of millennials saying they use them regularly. 

Having a chatbot allows you to provide a 24-7 service to your customers. As technology improves, they will become even more refined, helping people make buying decisions about products and services that suit their needs. 

Summary: the future is digital 

Whether it’s alternative payment methods or using artificial intelligence to help make buying decisions, we’re heading into a landscape that will be dominated by digital sales. This year’s most popular trends continue to enhance the world of ecommerce, and merchants needn't look further than digital sales to keep up with the latest innovations and boost the customer buying experience.

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