With a new year comes new trends, goals and opportunities, and the turn of 2021 holds greater significance than any new year in recent memory. The innovations and challenges faced by brands last year were, to use everybody’s favourite word: unprecedented, but the unexpected transformations which resulted will change the face of industries in every field, forever.
But what predictions do market leaders have for 2021? What innovations are here to stay, and what, if anything, will fall back into its pre-pandemic place as soon as circumstances allow? We’ve reached out to leaders at top UK brands to get a feel for what they’re expecting, and they have graciously agreed to share their thoughts. Read on to get the scoop on adapting your strategy for the year ahead, with some of their exclusive insights in your back pocket.
First, meet our contributors:
Shifting trends in 2020
2020 has certainly been a year of unpredictability – and also one of transformation. What are the shifts and trends that stood out most to you in the past year?
Sara: Luxury is becoming more and more local. Historically the market was in large parts driven by tourists, but Covid imposed travel bans have shifted consumer behaviour to shop in their local area or online.
An accelerated shift to online is also growing a younger customer group. We’re particularly noticing Gen Z as an emerging demographic.
Finally, there is a greater need to bring the brick and mortar luxury experience online. Store closures have accelerated innovation for a seamless customer experience across all touchpoints – from in store pick-ups, customisable products, to virtual styling appointments, an improved app experience and AR.
Emma: The first would be pre-booking. Limited capacity in sites and new rules around visits has driven a big increase in guests pre-booking tables before they visit. Guests now look for reassurance that a table will be available to stop any disappointment or long wait times. While table booking is in no way a new trend for our industry, we saw a massive shift in the percentage of visits that were pre-booked. Our pre-booked visits tripled and then some, after the first lockdown. This has had a positive effect on our pub teams, enabling them to plan better and deliver the very best guest experience.
Technology for COVID safe environments. – We’ve seen a much bigger reliance on technology to aid us in providing a COVID-safe environment for our guests. This not only includes solutions such as contactless ordering and payment during visit, but also technology that enables us to clearly communicate our in-pub COVID restrictions to guests online before they visit. Wellbeing and safe environments have become very important to our guests. Therefore the ability to provide reassurance pre-visit by using Yext to populate our Google listings, for instance, as well as offering contactless ordering have become a big priority to us.
Digital first in 2021 and beyond
In a world gone (largely) virtual, it makes sense to think about digital strategies. How has your view of digital changed this year, and what do you think will be its importance looking forward into 2021?
Sara: As a digital marketer, I’ve always believed in the importance of digital strategies. While this wasn’t necessarily a shared view across all industries and management levels, Covid definitely functioned as an accelerator of digital transformation as companies have been forced to shift investment to digital channels. Where this was done successfully, this period will be used as a precedent for further investments, therefore driving the development of digital strategies far beyond 2020/2021.
As investment in digital is increasing, technology and digital innovation will be accelerated too, promising an exciting new year. Even if digital will experience a slight dip after Covid restrictions are lifted, I believe it will become the first revenue driving channel for a number of industries in a few years, making strategic planning now more important than ever.
Digital will grow both as a source of inspiration and as a sales channel, with social especially gaining more traction as a sales channel.
Emma: Digital has had its time to shine in our business during the UK lockdowns. There is now a greater understanding of the impact and importance of it and also a much better adoption of technology within our teams. This continued during the periods of reopening and aided us in driving this forward in the business and using technology to ease the pressure on pub teams. It has also reframed our view of some of our online channels.
Using the Yext Answers free trial, we have gained a greater knowledge of the types of information guests require before they visit and what they’re trying to achieve. This data has given us greater direction in content production and technology to provide a truly useful and inspirational online journey for our guests.
Productivity and promise in 2021
Make a bold prediction about your industry: What’s going to happen or be a hot new trend in 2021? What are your big predictions for 2021 in general?
Sara: Adapting to the changes in consumer behaviour, localisation of strategies, campaigns, talent & products will become more important than ever.
As Luxury consumers are becoming younger, brands will move away from a focus on status, elitism and exclusive price points to highlighting a meaningful brand story. As consumers will become increasingly more aware of sustainability & social responsibility, brands will need to focus on credibly conveying that they care – about the environment, their local community and their employees.
Experience and impeccable customer service will continue to be at the heart of luxury. As technology advances, this will span from integrating augmented reality (AR) in search to personalising the digital experience through machine learning to provide an exclusive, bespoke experience.
In the short term, we will see more virtual shows & showrooms, while going forward, I expect to see more advanced (AR) such as virtual try-ons and integration with smart technologies, such as smart mirrors.
In general, I believe that awareness for sustainability and conscious shopping is a Covid inspired trend that is here to stay. Consumers will shift from buying more at a potentially cheaper price point to a more essential approach – buying less but focusing on better quality.
Consumers will expect more value from the products they buy, which will expand beyond quality & price – shopping will need to be convenient, accessible & available while at the same time meaningful.
Emma: The growth of Contactless Tech – It is no surprise that contactless ordering and payment has become more important to our guests during the pandemic and we predict a continuation of growth in 2021. The pandemic has meant a greater reliance on tech in all parts of our lives and the continued restrictions during visits to hospitality has meant strong usage habits have been formed. Although we never see this technology fully replacing human interaction in our sites, it allows our teams more time to concentrate on giving the very best experience to those that prefer the face-to-face interaction.
Secondly, workplace relocation – Many companies have chosen to move to an agile or field based way of working with their teams post-lockdown and we have started to see demand for business specific visits in our sites. Whether that be for formal meetings, informal get togethers, or just a change of scenery from working from home. The pub is a great place to host such visits and we predict a rise in requests post-lockdown. Work no longer means travelling to an office 9-5 for many people and although technology has paved the way for virtual meetings and home working, having somewhere alternative to work away from home provides many benefits.
Strategy and Solutions
How is your business thinking about refining or continuing transformative plans as we head into 2021? What strategies will you continue? Which will you sunset?
Emma: We’ll continue to refine our communications strategy. One of our key observations during 2020 was the importance of the pub atmosphere and experience to our guests, especially with the challenges of the COVID restrictions we were asked to put in place. Our pubs are at the heart of the community and guests visit to have fun and spend quality time with their friends and families. Our communications strategy will be refined to focus on sharing this atmosphere and experience online to help guests feel reassured and welcomed back into their local. We will also be continuing to re-evaluate what is important to our guests to ensure we’re providing relevant and timely messaging as we emerge into a post-pandemic environment.
Useful Tech – We will be continuing forward with our transformative technology strategies to provide useful experiences in and out of the pub. Whether this is through new technologies or improving on existing ones, we will have a clear focus on ensuring our guests can book, order and pay in a frictionless and easy way.
How do Yext solutions fit into your business’s transformation in 2021?
Sara: As a business partner, we’ll continue to rely on Yext for innovative ideas, solving customer queries, and quickly addressing changes to our business.
Emma: The Yext solution enables us to communicate essential information en masse for all our pubs at a local level. This is something we were never able to manage previously and has allowed us to take full control of the online guest journey. The core Yext platform will be integral to us during 2021 in delivering local engagement between our guests and their favourite local pub. The platform allows us to be reactive where possible and easily monitor our core KPI’s across the estate. Giving us the ability to communicate the differences in tiered restrictions across different parts of the UK during the pandemic has proven just how useful Yext is to our locally-led business.
Having completed the Yext Answers free trial, this product has proven itself as a priority solution to be included in our 2021 strategies. The insight it has already provided has identified how we can better our guest journey; highlighted potential gaps in our offering; and demonstrated changes in trends. The Search Experience Cloud has enabled us to be truly guest focussed and this will continue throughout 2021.