What Will Shape Shopper Marketing & Retail in 2022?

December 21, 2021

 [Header image credit: Canva]


As 2021 winds down, it’s time to check in with TMA’s shopper marketing and retail pros to get their thoughts on what made the most impact this year and what’s on the horizon for 2022.

Ginger Smithwick, VP, Strategy, Consumer & Shopper Engagement

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2021? After letting go of the notion that a “return to normal” was ever going to be possible, a “no going back” mentality emerged. This shift has had ripple effects across all aspects of our lives. From major choices like quitting a job to smaller ones like continuing to have groceries delivered because you always hated to shop in-store, people embraced the opportunity to make changes and start building new ways of life that better served them. When it came to shopping, that meant utilizing whatever method aligned with their needs, mood, and timeframe. In 2021, shoppers showed us it’s not about pitting in-store against online – it’s about offering a range of options and experiences that meet their ever-evolving needs.

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2022? As supply chain woes and labor shortages continue, shoppers – especially Gen Zers – will become more thoughtful about the systems that power the convenience they have come to love and expect. They will push to widen the scope of the “stories” behind their favorite brands – seeking a more holistic picture of the practices surrounding how something is made and how it ultimately gets to them. To win in the future, brands must shift from a focus on the bottom line to the triple bottom line, where People and the Planet are just as important as Profits. 

Jay Evans, SVP, Consumer & Shopper Engagement

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2021? When Megan Thee Stallion is rapping about how mainstream “Insta boutiques” have become, you know shopping via social platforms is a trend that’s here to stay. And while “Savage” was released in 2020, this past year has continued to see that trend grow. What was (and still is) a dynamic means for small brands to be discovered by the masses, we’re seeing major players in the retail space leaning in heavily to the trend of social shopping. Walmart and its biggest suppliers have leaned into TikTok in major ways, both to capture new audiences and shoppers, and to provide a means of discovery for suppliers to showcase innovation in a compelling way to ultimately convert those shoppers. 

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2022? While social shopping will continue to be a massive game changer for brands and retailers alike, I do feel strongly that live experiences will be on the rise in the retail space.  As I mentioned above, social media has been an incredible platform for brand and product discovery over the course of the pandemic when live experiences weren’t feasible (or safe for that matter), or were dramatically scaled back, and online shopping was becoming more and more “the norm.” I think we’ll see more live experiences in retail, where shoppers can feel, touch, taste, smell…experience…brands in person before making a purchase commitment, no matter how high or low the price. Where 2020 and 2021 have really resulted in shoppers relying on tried-and-true brands, I think we’ll begin seeing more and more of an in-person trial and experience of new and emerging products, brands and innovations that have been missing the past 2 years.

Leo Santos, SVP, Creative

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2021? eComm becomes a magnet for in-store traffic: 2021 has been a transitional year for consumer behavior. eComm became a cemented reality and broke walls of resistance from traditional shoppers. At the same time, consumers craving a return to normality created pent-up demand for in-person shopping experiences. In a world where supply chain concerns went mainstream, smart, data-driven retailers with an eye on these colliding behaviors leveraged real-time inventory management to pull hasty online shoppers back into stores, disguising them as fulfillment centers.

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2022? Alternative payments go mainstream:Making predictions for 2022 is like a “choose your own adventure” book. If Omicron proves to be a step toward the end of the pandemic, retail goes one way. If it sends us all back to isolation, retail goes another way. So, I’m going to go with an easy bet that widely used alternative payment methods will become part of everyday life for a lot more people. Retailers will adapt to social payment trends like splitting payments on Venmo or on-the-spot financing like Affirm. Some retailers will chase buzz by accepting crypto. We will see more cashier-less store experiments. And credit card companies will suffer with retailers pushing back against swipe fees now that they can offer their consumers other cashless alternatives.

Kelly Platt, SVP, Account Service

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2021? Local is the new name brand. In a world that feels increasingly out of our control, supporting your local community via events and businesses gives us the ability to wrap our arms around something in a tangible sense. We can look into friends’ and neighbors’ eyes and directly see the impact our dollar is making. Buying in town or close by is what’s in for all seasons for the foreseeable future.

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2022? The sharing economy is here to stay. Local Facebook groups have exploded, offering up everything from poker tables to birthday signs rotating from house to house. From sharing with neighbors to purging your house to reducing waste—it’s a win-win-win. What would it look like for big box retailers to get in on this trend? Could a small group of neighbors jointly purchase less frequently used items—lawn mowers, large ice buckets, etc.? How do we lean into this newfound less-is-more love?

Nancylyn Hogarty, SVP, Strategy

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2021? We did see a return to retail, but it stopped short of all out “retail revenge.” Instead, we saw the return of some familiar shopping behaviors and some pandemic-induced behaviors made permanent. Covid Cooks kept demand high for grocery items, shopping for them both in-store and online. In-store shoppers continued to keep dwell time down which meant lots of those meals were planned ahead. Browsing behavior didn’t go away but it did change its shape – some categories saw rebounding in-store exploration but for many browsing shifted online as shoppers sought to satisfy their craving for new and novel before getting to the store.

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2022? Addicted to Convenience: The 2021 eComm acceleration drove huge growth in next-day/same-day service for home delivery, BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) and curbside pickup, and that convenience has become habitual. Recent research by Omnitacs finds that half of consumers use 1-2-day service once a month or more often, and 65% of consumer would pay more for that service. Watch for convenience to continue to drive retailer selection and brand choice, and to be a loyalty driver in 2022.

Labor Shortage Creates Challenges and Opportunities:The ongoing labor shortage is impacting shopper experience as small businesses to national chains limit hours or cut back on services. Shoppers who venture in store can be faced with less than positive experiences as they try to navigate complex categories or find advice and recommendations. But where there is challenge, there are unique opportunities. Brands in hard-to-shop categories can make way-finding easier through traditional signage, category reinvention, and technology. They can leverage that lengthened discovery phase to help shoppers learn about the brand, its products, and its values before they even reach the store. It’s also a great opportunity to rethink how to create high-touch experiences that are just as memorable, but less reliant on sales associates. Brands that take innovative approaches to these challenges will create solutions that can forge stronger relationships with shoppers and retailers in 2022 and beyond.

Mike Lozito, SVP, Account Services

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2021? It’s undeniable the direct-to-driveway trend is here to stay…and grow. In 2020 and 2021, virtually every company has been bolstering their eComm strategies (as they should be), but as marketers, it would be wise to understand the impact of strategies and tactics intent on keeping shoppers at a distance. The irony is, the more retailers seek to meet shoppers at home with ultra-fast delivery of just about anything, the less loyal shoppers may become to any one retailer or brand. In this scenario, retailers effectively become a transaction, not a shopping experience. Simple, of course. Convenient, of course…but will retailers be cherished? Will they be differentiated? Or will they become a commodity?  Retailers will undoubtedly get measured in who can do it fastest…and cheapest.  Retailers will lose the advantage of tantalizing the senses of shoppers – and converting them into sales. Sure, the computers allow us to tease a couple senses – sight + sound. But what about smell and touch and taste? Shopping goes from something wonderful, something sensorial, something we built entire days, traditions and routines around, and suddenly is at risk of becoming mundane – and dare I say, anti-social?  And where will retailers be if brands continue to go DTC – will they even have a reason for being?

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2022? As we go into 2022, the dramatic and swift pivot to digital is one to embrace…but not at the expense of the advantages retailers have of being with their shoppers IRL. If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that trends change and counter trends create opportunities. So as more retailers and brands dramatically overcommit to digital platforms and take their eye off the human element of the retail experience, white space opportunities to connect with shoppers IRL will be prime for the taking ­– and so too will their loyalty. So, before we bet it all on web-based transactions, we all may want to think twice about what we’re giving up at the expense of convenience.

Elena Petukhova, VP, Strategy

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2021? The greatest trend/shift that occurred in 2021 – and will most definitely disrupt the shopper/retail landscape in 2022 – is the labor shortage crisis. Conventionally, we tend to believe that it’s retailers and brands who suffer the most as a result of fewer workers willing to join the physical retail workforce. I would argue that shoppers and employees pay an even higher price: 

  • Store visitors face unpredictable and often dissatisfying shopping experience as fewer and less trained store associates are available. Coupled with supply chain issues, this lack of experienced and expertly trained workforce makes B&M shopping a pretty sad story. 
  • Associates are overloaded and stretched thin as they are asked to take on more responsibilities and perform functions they are simply not prepared for, which leads to further workplace dissatisfaction and higher quit rate. 

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2022? We must solve the labor shortage crisis. Brands and retailers have experimented with tactics aiming to attract workers and keep shoppers coming in, but no one has cracked the code yet. Whatever the solution might be, it will have to put people working in retail front and center as the entire shopper marketplace is actively shifting toward the “power to people” paradigm. Marketers and brands must recognize store associates as a critical segment of a brand’s target audience and not just accessories of POS execution.

Will these predictions pay off? Only time will tell. But, it’s safe to say our shopper marketing and retail experts will be watching and keeping our clients ahead of the game.

To re-read the panel’s predictions from years past, see here and here.