Innovation That Matters

The top five retail innovations of 2021

Innovation Snapshot

Take a look at the top innovations addressing retail trends in 2021

Christmas trees are going up and attention is turning to the business of Christmas shopping – the most lucrative period of the year for most western retailers. Retail was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. But this year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are back, with early reports suggesting consumer spending has roared back to pre-COVID levels.

But is it believable that retail will simply go back to business-as-usual? It seems unlikely. The retail sector is being shaped by numerous disruptive forces. Today’s consumer is more demanding, wanting a curated experience. Yet at the same time, shoppers are more aware than ever of the dangers posed by the climate crisis, and the importance of sustainability and circularity.

It’s a difficult circle to square, but this past year we have seen a number of innovations taking on the challenges of sustainability, recyclability and personalisation.

A monthly subscription for circular babywear

Maybe you have a new arrival in the family this year? If so, baby clothes are likely to be on your Christmas list.

Babies grow incredibly fast, which means they go through a lot of clothes. Dutch circular babywear brand Red Orka is on a mission to tackle this by making babywear more sustainable. The brand offers a monthly subscription, through which customers receive high-quality, clean, and reusable baby rompers. Customers specify the size they require and can then return the item once the baby has grown out of it. 

Reusable bamboo coffee cup doubles as a loyalty card

Loyalty cards have been part of the retail landscape for many years, providing shoppers with discounts, and retailers with valuable customer data. Reusable cups made from sustainable materials are also increasingly ubiquitous. Now a British company has combined the two ideas.

Panda Packaging has created a fun, easy way for customers to earn rewards from brands, while also reducing plastic waste. Panda Packaging’s reusable bamboo cups include an integrated, contactless loyalty scheme. Customers sign up with no need to download an app. Businesses easily set and update rewards, and have the ability to seamlessly communicate with repeat customers at any time, not just at points of sale.

Self-checkout tech brings grocery stores to rural communities

We have all heard about the struggles of the High Street in the face of online competition. But if you live in a remote rural area, you may have no local shopping options at all. Swedish startup Lifvs hopes to change this with its fleet of small, unattended food stores.

Lifvs currently operates around 27 stores. These are installed in containers so they can be easily set-up almost anywhere, and moved if the economics of a location don’t 

work out. All of the stores are unattended, and shoppers use a mobile app to gain entry, scan bar codes, and pay for their selections. This arrangement allows one member of staff to oversee four or five stores, making it economical to have stores in villages with very small populations. 

Online marketplace urges customers to buy less

It seems logical for retailers to encourage shoppers to buy more and more products. But a US sustainable design marketplace is trying to convince its customers to buy less. Instead, their pitch to shoppers is to make each purchase count.

Living Deep offers a curated selection of home products from leading green brands. The company not only curates its selection for durability and beauty, but also for environmental and social responsibility. The platform only includes vendors that have ‘a strong, authentic environmental and social ethos.’ All products need to be durable and have extended initial and secondary uses. In essence, Living Deep has taken two important retail trends – curation and sustainability – and combined them on one platform.

Sustainable gift wrapping made from fabric

On average, Americans alone generate 4 million pounds of rubbish each year from used gift wrapping. Now US company Rapt is tackling this by developing a sustainable gift wrap made from fabric.

People have been wrapping presents in fabric for centuries – there is an entire Japanese art, furoshiki, dedicated to it. But Rapt takes a lot of the effort out with wrapping packages that include colour-coordinated fabric, ribbons, bows, gift cards and instructions for different styles of wrapping. The wrapping itself is made from remnants that would otherwise be thrown away. 

While comparable in price to traditional paper gift wrap options, the Rapt fabric wrapping can be used over and over again, reducing waste and saving the customer money.

Words: Matthew Hempstead

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