2021 has provided plenty of turbulence. But there have been a number of disruptive, breakthrough transformations that have occurred through the year too. From the explosion of checkout free stores and quick commerce through to sustainability and circular economy initiatives. 2021 has been an eventful year in many ways. So join Oliver Banks and take a tour over the key points from 2021 and what that teaches us about the future of retail.

Listen to this episode of the Retail Transformation Show podcast to discover:

  • Which start-up scaled from nothing to major partnerships?
  • Who is making a seemingly illogical organisational decision?
  • Which retailer has been the most transformative company in 2021?
  • And much more.


Key highlights of retail transformation in 2021

2021 was a turbulent year. But there were also many transformations and innovations that happened.

January: Amazon expand pay by palm service

πŸ– Amazon are expanding their palm reading payment service – “Amazon One” – to more of their Amazon Go stores.

🦍 German start-up, Gorillas, are looking to shake up fast grocery deliveries, using dark convenience stores to deliver within 10 minutes!

🍽 Foodini, a 3D food printer has been used by Michelin star chefs to create food that would normally be impossible to make. Using food cartridges, this could be easily reprinted by consumers at home in the future.

πŸ’„ MAC Cosmetics opened a new innovation lab in New York, featuring a range of AR tablets, on-site personalisation and easy repeat ordering.

πŸ“Œ Also, Pinterest expanded their AR capability as they look to move into the world of social commerce. Their “Try On” tool is now moving from lipstick to add eyeshadow products too.

February: Ikea launch a super simple sustainability initiative

🌳 Ikea created a series of disassembly instructions as a commitment to sustainability – there to help customers deconstruct furniture to help move, recycle or resell furniture.

🚚 Amazon started trialling their new custom design and electric powered Rivian delivery vans on the streets of LA.

🐟 Morrisons purchased their largest seafood supplier as they expand their manufacturing capability and “in house” supply chain. They also now own a fishing boat!

March: Gucci go virtual

πŸ‘Ÿ Gucci launched virtual shoes which can be seen/worn in augmented reality. And interestingly, you can also take your fancy footwear into the virtual worlds and communities of Roblox and VRChat.

πŸ‘Š In Shanghai, Diesel Hub has opened, featuring classic retail space with a sizeable bar and restaurant. It aims to create a space to blend living, working, dining, connecting and shopping.

πŸ‘ž The Fashion Institute of Technology and brand Public School New York (PSNY) have collaborated to develop a trainer that uses a faux-leather grown from microbes. Whilst only at a prototype stage, will we be wearing microbe-grown clothes in a few years time?

April: Nike Refurbished helps drive the circular economy

πŸ‘Ÿ Nike Refurbished is the sports brand’s latest circular economy proposition. Customers can return a pair of shoes and Nike grades them, refurbished them and puts them back on sale to offer great value and minimise environmental impact.

πŸ’‡β€β™€οΈ Amazon opened a salon in London. It features AR hair colour selection, loads of content and QR-shoppable displays.

πŸ– Also, Amazon expanded the use of their pay by palm system, Amazon One, to Whole Foods Markets stores around the HQ in Seattle. Meanwhile, they are also rumoured to be looking to expand their “Just Walk Out” camera technology to full-size supermarkets, a significant step up from the convenience format.

May: Here comes the bride… via a quick spot of shopping

πŸ‘° Selfridges have been granted a wedding license allowing couples to tie the knot in the department store. They are also continuing to focus on real-life experiences including floristry workshops, pampering sessions as well as children’s parties (in the toy department of course!). And this is following opening a cinema towards the end of 2019.

⚽ In Indonesia, Adidas launched two new concept stores. The “Stadium Evolution” store is focused on sports and performance, whilst “The Collection” store specialises in lifestyle and streetwear.

✈ Dixons Carphone are closing their travel business as traveller numbers remain low following the pandemic. Meanwhile, WHSmith are looking to accelerate the growth of their travel business.

πŸ’Š In the US, the latest quick commerce move has seen Walgreens deploy a nationwide 2 hour delivery service with a range of 24,000 items and in partnership with Uber, Doordash and other 3rd party couriers.

June: The year’s biggest acquisition?

πŸ’° Etsy acquired resale platform Depop as it looks to attract more gen Z customers.

🎬 Netflix are moving into retail as they look to sell ranges of branded merchandise, inspired by their content.

πŸ’Š Amazon added recurring subscriptions to their pharmacy business which they opened at the end of 2020.

🚁 Walmart invested in DroneUp following trials in 2020. They are looking to expand the trial, stating that they have “4,700 stores stocked with more than 100,000 of the most purchased items, located within 10 miles of 90% of the US population.”

πŸ“± Facebook continue to lead the social commerce drive and are releasing their Shops feature to WhatsApp and adding a new AR virtual try-on feature to Instagram.

July: AO double down on repairs

πŸ”§ Appliance retailer, AO, opened a rework warehouse to handle returns and faulty products. By reworking them and then selling through outlet website and other channels, minimising waste and improving sustainability.

β›³ US sporting goods retailer, Dick’s, are continuing to experiment by opening more experiential flagship stores. New store concepts included “Golf Galaxy” which launched in July and many others, to build relevance for customers.

🟑 Amazon is rumoured to be planning to accept Bitcoin as a payment method. And rumour suggests that they may also be planning their own cryptocurrency. Will this be part of their forecasted banking division?

August: Hudson’s Bay split retail channels

βž— Hudson’s Bay announced that they are splitting their e-commerce and store operations into separate business divisions. This is perhaps a move that defies the usual approach of removing silos between channels. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

πŸ“ˆ Walmart will be offering their technology and services to smaller retailers. Third parties will be able to connect with Walmart’s Marketplace and sign up for their Fulfilment Services offering to be able to outsource US-wide 2 day delivery to the mega-retailer. This is a major move that demonstrates the transformation journey that they’re on.

πŸ€ Shopify launched the ability for merchants to sell NFTs (non-fungible tokens) directly through their stores. The basketball team, Chicago Bulls, were one of the first retailers to sell images of their championship rings from the last 25 years.

🎡 Retailer JD Sports and Nike are collaborating for the launch of the new Nike Air VaporMax. In partnership with TikTok, you can virtually try on the new show through AR and follow the dance steps.

πŸ‘” In addition, M&S are also removing suit merchandising from over 50% of stores as a more casual work attire takes over.

September: JD.com go big on digitally enabled mall

πŸŽ‰ In China, JD.com opened their new, 5 storey JD MALL. This features 11 themed experience zones and 29 product interaction zones. For example,Β  a beauty salon, audio experience area, drone testing, and massage parlour. Customers will purchase by scanning QR codes and products will be delivered home.

🏠 Etsy opened a Google Streetview style virtual house which acts as a digital showroom to show a selection of curated products.

πŸ›Ή Vans are entering the metaverse in partnership with Roblox. Gamers/customers can shop the virtual range and interact with their avatars.

πŸ€– In the UK, high street store, Wilko, is investing Β£3m in StreetDrone StreetDrone is an autonomous delivery robot company, and are working on offering customers autonomous deliveries.

βœ… And Decathlon are deploying “StockBot” to their stores worldwide to automate RFID stock counts and free up time for colleagues.

October: Tesco launch big convenience plays

πŸ›’ In London, the UK’s largest supermarket Tesco has opened its first fully automated checkout-free grocery store, GetGo. This has been enabled by a technology partnership with Trigo. And this is after trialling the Trigo technology in their HQ store.

🦍 Tesco started to offer customers a 10 minute delivery proposition after partnering with rapid delivery start-up, Gorillas. As part of this partnership, Gorillas are setting up micro-fulfilment centres in a selection of Tesco’s large stores.

β™» Adidas announced they have partnered with resale platform ThredUp. This partnership is to allow customers to send back any apparel (Adidas or not!) and earn rewards to spend with the sportswear brand.

πŸ’‘ In Australia, 7-Eleven are undertaking a major organisation restructure to focus on agile ways of working and bring store colleagues more into the innovation process. This involves a shift away from the classic functional department set up and into multi-skilled teams.

πŸŽ‰ In London, innovative new “playground” store, SituLive officially opened their doors. This experiential store offers consumers a new and immersive experience. In addition, they are shifting the business model to “sell” storytelling and demonstrations to brands directly and then directing consumers to purchase directly from the brand’s website.

πŸ›Ž And finally, fast-fashion retailer, PrettyLittleThing, opened a hotel in Oxford, UK. Staying there includes the chance to take a cocktail masterclass, read your tarot cards, alongside some yoga and a spot of karaoke.

November: Macy’s experiment in the NFT market

πŸ¦ƒ Macy’s have focused on the NFT market, surrounding their Thanksgiving parade. They featured limited edition NFT auctions with one reaching over $300k. Also, they featured an NFT market with items at a more accessible price point.

πŸ›’ In the UK, Sainsbury’s have become the first major grocery chain to license Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology for checkout-free shopping. They plan to open the first store in very near proximity to Tesco’s checkout-free store as well as an Amazon Fresh store.

πŸš΅β€β™€οΈ The quick commerce consolidation continues as the 10-minute grocery delivery, Getir, acquires competitor, Weezy. This is after Weezy closed down several of their dark stores last week.

December: Meta’s future drive into digital shopping?

πŸ“± A leaked strategy document from Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, suggests that they are supposedly developing a plethora of apps and services that make it a “primary destination for commerce”. So expect to see more developments on their shops features and in the metaverse too of course.

🧠 M&S are partnering with Cambridge Spark to offer a data science and AI academy.

What was your favourite story?

Please do share your favourite retail transformation story from 2021?

Email oliver.banks@obandco.uk to share your favourite story. Or message Oliver Banks on LinkedIn.

Additional episodes of the Retail Transformation Show to listen to

If you’re now looking for your next listen, check out these past episodes of the podcast.

InΒ episode 155: Reinventing Digital Shopping, we explored a potential future for ecommerce. As mentioned, this episode was inspired by the Etsy House as mentioned.

155: Reinventing Digital Shopping - The Retail Transformation Show with Oliver Banks

Then the Retail Prophet, Doug Stephens joined in episode 144: Resurrecting Retail After The Pandemic. This is a fantastic episode to listen to.

144: Resurrecting Retail After The Pandemic with Doug Stephens - The Retail Transformation Show with Oliver Banks

Metaverse expert, Cathy Hackly joined forΒ episode 128: AR, VR And Retail In The Metaverse. This is a great intro episode to help understand the art of the possible.

128: AR, VR And Retail In The Metaverse with Cathy Hackl - The Retail Transformation Show with Oliver Banks

Department stores also featured several times in the episode. So check out episode 146: The Future Of Department Stores with Cate Trotter.

146: The Future Of Department Stores with Cate Trotter - The Retail Transformation Show with Oliver Banks

Also, the circular economy and sustainability was never far away. So listen to episode 136: Understanding The Circular Economy with Karen Bendell.

136: Understanding The Circular Economy with Karen Bendell- The Retail Transformation Show with Oliver Banks



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