Merchandising, Insights and Studies, CPG Industry News

2021 Retail Execution Predictions: Three Opportunities for Field Teams

2021 Retail Execution Predictions: Three Opportunities for Field Teams

What can CPG brands expect in a post-pandemic phygital world? And how can you be prepared for it? After all the uncertainty of 2020, it’s understandable that brands want to predict what to expect in this new year, but due to a number of factors – including the continued rise in COVID-19 cases, economic downturn, a new presidential term, and additional uncertainty on vaccine administration – that’s become much more challenging.

However, one thing is certain: The pandemic expedited a need for digital transformation and organizational agility that otherwise may have taken years to adopt – and the businesses that survived, and even thrived, during the pandemic were already prepared with technology to pivot and adopt new services to reach customers in a new way.

man shopping safely in mask


Even as the old saying goes, “a new year brings new beginnings,” it’s important to understand that many of the challenges brands faced in 2020 will continue well into 2021. Consumers will continue to remain vigilant, rethinking their shopper missions to focus on stocking up on essentials and continuing to limit their store trips. Stores will continue to have mandatory capacity limitations and traffic flows, and their shoppers will continue to cover their faces and rush through their visit. And it appears curbside and in-store pickup – which saw tremendous adoption this past year – are here to stay for good.

So as CPG brands enter 2021, a year filled with so much opportunity and even more ambiguity, we examine what we know to be true in the retail execution space in the next year, and how CPG field teams can capitalize.

Read on as we break down three major predictions for retail, and where CPG field teams could focus to win in 2021.


Deliver on Safety and Trust by Being There

According to a 12-market study on the role brands are expected to play in the pandemic, 65 percent of respondents believe that a brand’s response in the crisis will have a huge impact on their likelihood of purchasing it again. Sixty percent said that they are turning to brands that they absolutely can trust. And part of that trust is physically being there on the shelf when they need you.

retail execution statistic


Buying a Belief

This past year has completely changed the way consumers think about their shopping experience as well as the brands they buy. Price is no longer the only priority for consumers – the modern shopper wants brands that stand for social causes they also believe in. Consumers want sustainable and health-conscious brands that back issues that matter, are made from environmentally friendly sourced material, and tell their story with authenticity and trust.

Shopping Safely

Consumers are also looking to shop at stores they feel safest at – making safety the top priority for retailers in 2021. A recent survey by Oracle found that the top three most important aspects of the consumer experience are: 1) visible cleaning efforts, 2) reduced foot traffic in-store, and 3) contactless checkout. Directional arrows, capacity limitations, redesigned store layouts for more space between shoppers, and touch-free payment systems are all expected to stay this year as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

retail execution statistic 2


Maintaining the Shelf

Another big factor causing consumers to lose trust in their brands is poor product availability. According to an Oracle study on consumer behavior, 47 percent of respondents said out-of-stocks (OOS) topped their list of bad shopping experiences, and 63 percent said they were not willing to wait for an item to be back in stock before trying another brand.


What can CPG brands and their field teams focus on?

John Orr, SVP of Retail at Ceridian explains that brands and retailers will continue to re-evaluate their technology offerings to ensure their reps and employers stay compliant and engaged, while also helping both customers and employees feel safe and satisfied.

Brands that equip their field teams with a retail execution platform for monitoring planogram compliance and stock levels are able to find and correct on-shelf availability issues faster, even as uncertain supply chains make in-store conditions more unpredictable.

Fighting OOS and prioritizing product availability is critical to driving loyalty in a time when shoppers are looking for brands they can trust.

retail execution statistic 3


Embrace Digital Transformation

2020 was no doubt a monumental year for the adoption of digital transformation, championed by brands that already had a strong technology stack in place, with the rest frantically trying to catch up.

Connecting Remote Teams

The pandemic forced millions of jobs to become remote positions, making brands and their field teams even more siloed than before. Some brands even explored blended team strategies by supplementing in-house reps with 3rd party merchandisers in order to fulfill the increasing demand for essential products. 

Creating an Omnichannel Experience

While many brands and retailers made digital transformation a priority this past year, 72.5 percent of companies still admit to having absent or underdeveloped capabilities to support an end-to-end, cross-channel shopping experience. In 2021, expect brands to continue to embrace e-commerce as they grow their omnichannel retail strategies. Brands will rethink how they deliver their products to consumers through the channels that work best for consumers, not the other way around. Many physical stores will shift to become digital operational hubs for delivery and order pick-up and fulfillment centers.

retail execution statistic 4


Driving Process Through Data

In order to thrive in the future, brands will take an aggressive data-driven approach to retail execution, automating many processes from inventory management to delivery to on-shelf availability. Brands will begin investing in future inventory based on new shopping stock-up trends, which will allow for forecasting demand at more granular levels by SKUs, location, and customer segment. Pricing will also return to focus as brands assess location-level demand and make localized promotions and markdowns a regular cadence.


What can CPG brands and their field teams focus on?

With nearly zero face-to-face interaction between field teams, it’s important territory managers have visibility into all the actions their reps are taking in the field, and how those actions impact sales. Orr emphasized that disparate systems will continue to be a roadblock – so brands and retailers must do everything they can in 2021 to streamline and update their technology stack.

Tosin Jack, commodity intelligence manager at Mintec believes that while having data will always be the first step to retail optimization, accessing reliable data as quickly as possible is where technology comes in. “What teams need in these times is technology that integrates data comprehensively and meaningfully,” Jack said.

retail execution quote 1


A platform that can integrate data comprehensively and meaningfully will provide field teams with insights into areas of opportunity for the brand. And for brands that augmented their field teams or took a blended approach in 2020 – team standardization and in-store program compliance across field teams through a dedicated retail execution platform will become paramount to their success in 2021.

When it does come time to execute your store-level planning, ask yourself the following two questions to understand whether it’s time for your brand to consider a more robust retail execution platform.

  1. Do you have a way to communicate store-level priorities to your field team? 
  2. Are you equipped to measure the execution of these store-level plans, both at the store level and at scale? 

If your answer is no (or I don’t know) to either of these, 2021 may be your year to rethink your retail execution tech stack.


Finding a New Balance in Promotions

As mentioned earlier, price took a back seat to safety and trust this past year, which has forced some brands to reconsider if they’re overdelivering on their value by running promotions, with one expert even suggesting that because promotions struggled so much prior to the pandemic, brands should flirt with the idea of eliminating promotions entirely in 2021.

Delivering Personalized Promotions

And while this past year saw the simplification of SKUs as brands focused heavily on their top-selling center-store products – which consequently reduced the number of promotions on SKUs around the perimeter – that does not mean your brand should take this focus again in 2021. As brands roll out innovative new products in Q1, they’ll be thinking about how they can safely deliver hyper-personalized promotions to consumers.

hyper-personalized promotions


Winning Back Loyal Customers

Due to the increase in online ordering and near-constant out-of-stock issues both off and online, consumers were far more likely to switch brands in 2020 out of necessity, explained Craig Silverman, CEO of Consequently, to get them back and recapture customer loyalty in 2021, brands should activate campaigns focused on loyal customers that stopped purchasing their products when the pandemic hit but continued buying other products in the same category.

retail execution quote 2


What can CPG brands and their field teams focus on?

Even before the world went into lockdown, more than half of all promotions failed to have any impact on sales. Understanding why your promotions failed is key to adjusting and building a stronger promotional strategy in 2021. 

In-store compliance to your well-planned 2021 promotions strategy may feel out of your control, but it doesn’t have to be. Advanced CPG brands with strong reporting capabilities know that you don’t need to be physically present in store to catch pesky promotional errors and noncompliance. While CPG brands perceive compliance rates to be upwards of 70 percent, a study in 2019 found that compliance rates were actually closer to 40 percent.

retail execution statistic 5


In 2021, make sure your retail execution platform can give you meaningful data about promotion execution performance at scale, so you can enter discussions with retail partners with strong data stories (instead of anecdotes) and build new plans to fill the gaps and improve promotion execution in your national accounts.

For larger brands, make sure your retail execution platform can automate alerts to highlight stores with display errors, so if there’s a sales lift in all stores running a promotion except one, you can quickly dispatch reps to investigate and correct the problem before days or even weeks go by. 

While some brands may choose to reinvent the wheel this year when it comes to promotions, the strongest brands know that the key to any successful promotional campaign is the ability to spot compliance issues to make adjustments in real-time, saving you weeks of potential lost sales.

2020 was an unprecedented year, unlike anything the retail industry has seen before. And as this year rolls out new obstacles and opportunities, we’ll keep you informed with up-to-date information on how your brand and field team can excel in 2021 at the shelf. Schedule a demo or discovery call with one of our consultants to see how Repsly can help you navigate some of these industry trends and challenges, and much more.

Download the 2024 Outlook Report

As the retail landscape continues to evolve, it’s more important than ever to stay on top of the latest trends and challenges. Download our report today to see how more than 160+ CG executives and field leaders are strategizing for 2024.

Ben Weiner

Ben is Repsly's content marketing manager, focusing on digital storytelling through blogs, video and podcast production, and social media. He recently served as Bullhorn’s senior content marketing specialist and is also the founder of InVision Media, a video production company that helped small businesses promote their message. Before joining the workforce, Ben was the captain, president, and social media manager of the men's ice hockey team at the University of Maryland. In his spare time, he enjoys rollerblading with his dog Chewbacca, watching the Boston Bruins, listening to classic rock, and playing competitive games of Settlers of Catan. Follow Ben on Twitter: @bennybyline.

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