Observed

The year of user research

Even though Salesforce bought Slack, they won’t make any changes right away. After that, we’ll see what happens. 

Even when Microsoft bought Github, they didn’t really make any obvious changes for the worse. It seems that large companies are (finally) starting to see they shouldn’t do too much to change things that are already working.

Besides, radical change with such valuable property in the coming year would be perilous. We will continue to see progress in remote working and learning apps, some improvements to Zoom and Google Meet (and maybe even Slack Calls). Plus, of course, we’ll see about a billion new players coming into the space.

The author William Gibson has a great quote: “When you want to know how things really work, study them when they’re coming apart.” With so much change and (sigh) disruption in personal and professional patterns, 2021 will be the ultimate data-gathering year. 

The spend on user experience research, in real-time, will be a priority for Salesforce and any big company. Once they start seeing repeatable user patterns, trending up, changes will come to the Slacks of the world.
-Jack Cohen, Engineer

Rise of the localvore

Amazon is such a massive presence in our shopping lives (and our professional lives too, hiring 2800 people daily) it’s easy to think of it as inevitable. Immortal!

And yet … one of the byproducts of the pandemic has been the resurgent “locality” of our lives. Commutes went down, neighborhood walks went up, so we could actually see the stress on local businesses in a way we haven’t since the big box stores came in during the 80s and 90s.

That will make fertile ground for a wave of new platforms that serve as an aggregator for hyperlocal businesses, à la Bookshop and Drizly. An online market that can provide the same speed of (free) delivery, for a curated selection of goods, with comparable pricing and a guarantee that it comes from a street-level merchant.

This kind of little-guys-banding-together co-op talk has been around for decades, and can often be great in theory, but end up stiffing the locals like, say, certain food delivery services.

However, the sheer blunt force of 2020 has renewed the civic nature of how we shop. So we’ll see new, and old, delivery services put their economic relationship with the vendors they work with front and center in advertising, positioning your consumer choice as a way to support Main Street.
-Matt Brown, Head of Content & Marketing

Lifestyle brands get serious about your pets

Spoiler alert: pet gear can be expensive. But it’s nothing compared to what’s coming. We’re just going to keep spending more and more on our pets – we spend all our time with them now, why shouldn’t Peanut have a stylish onesie for his winter outings? – and retailers will race each other to provide customizable, ever-more-unique products.

The growth of the pet clothes and accessories market will be populated with ever more DTC lifestyle brands getting in on the pet game. Artisanal, hand-crafted collars? Organic, locally-sourced small-batch cookies? As much care as we put into our own product choices as a mode of self-expression will be put into our pets’, and the options will keep expanding to match.

Humans are getting used to a certain level of UX for their retail sites, and that expectation is quickly creeping up on pet-related commerce sites too. You’re selling to the person, not the cat, so successful merchants will up their user experience game considerably. More gift features, loyalty programs, payment options, and definitely an elevation of the mobile experience.

As someone who just spent ages scrolling for the perfect new collar, hand-engraved tag, and dog bed covers to complement my decor (it’s out all the time, it should look good as well as being cozy!), I am here for it. And if you have a suggestion for a crate cover that doesn’t look like a utilitarian sack, please let me know.

We’re going to see an explosion of new brands offering everything from CBD treats to luxury collars. We’ll also see way more collaborations (why hasn’t Beyoncé done a Plush collab?). Brands like L.L. Bean and Carhartt have been inching into that space for a few years, but it’s ripe for more luxury brands to jump into the fray (Moncler puffer vest, anyone?).

Collaborations will also unquestionably, massively expand into the ranks of influencers following in the wake of @tikatheiggy and @the blueboys, who became perfect Instagram snack food for aspirational dog enthusiasts. I, for one, want those matching jammies.
-Lucy Bonner, Associate Creative Director

In through the outdoor

Dick’s Sporting Goods recently announced plans to open two outdoor-focused retail stores in 2021, and hired Wolverine’s former CEO to spearhead what they’re calling the “Public Lands” initiative. Details are light, and industry skepticism is rife, but we’ll see a big wave of retail “let’s see what sticks” experimentation over the next year.

Dick’s is putting money and time into the project, and moving in on REI’s turf, so it is interesting to think about how traditional sports/outdoor retail could push more boundaries in the wake of COVID. 

Could brands be tempted to create park-like destinations that show off their gear in large, indoor-outdoor complexes? There’s a ton of retail square footage available for places that could be, say, 2-3 times the size of a Bass Pro Shop, designed with social distancing in mind, allowing people to test products in simulated environments.

If so, there’s an opportunity for new digital experiences too to give the spaces a Wonka-like vibe. Digital billboards, touchscreen stations, wearables that act as your “passport” through the park, interactive games … plus apps that guide customers and act as point-of-sale devices. Like the Osprey day pack? One-click purchasing and it’ll be waiting for you up at an Ikea-inspired pickup area.

Past attempts at this kind of experiential space get labeled gimmicky, and not without reason. A pricey PR exercise that’s hard to scale, hard to maintain, expensive to staff, difficult to secure, and revenue-challenged. But as we rethink how and where we shop, there’s surely some Disney DNA that could be injected into these in-store (out-store?) experiences to boost engagement.
-Matt Brown, Head of Content & Marketing

I want it that way

Consumers are getting smarter and less tolerant of customer service failures. In 2021, eCommerce brands will be held to the highest standard of customer service and experience. 

Consumers spent a lot of time online in 2020, shopping for essentials as well as (most definitely) non-essentials. They became accustomed to low-friction online shopping experiences and will demand it moving forward. They will not only demand it, but consistently compare every online shopping experience to the best experience they’ve ever had.

Online retail will rise to meet that challenge. Shopify and other retail platforms will start offering more features and updates at a greater pace. Internal digital teams at major brands will grow, throwing more designers, developers, and money at upgrades. Smaller brands will hire outside teams at regular intervals during the year to have their web/mobile experiences keep up with change.

By the end of the year, online retail across the board will incorporate UX that’s cleaner, simpler, easier, and more intuitive. Features like gift cards and saved lists will become near-mandatory, as will one-click purchasing options.
-Carly Deiter, Head of Growth