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Retail in 2021 – the technology trends speeding up digital transformation

Read about four enablers for the Retail industry

Giselda Autio / February 17, 2021

In 2020 we saw tremendous growth in e-commerce with many retail companies taking huge leaps forward in terms of digitalization, so what does 2021 hold for the industry?

The already rapid pace of digital transformation is set to increase even further, with exciting technological enablers that will open up plenty of opportunities for retailers who are willing to invest and take the lead.

1. Contactless technology – biometric payments for safety and convenience

Contactless technology has been one of the winners during the global pandemic, with examples like self-checkout facilities in stores enabling a more hygienic, comfortable, and convenient shopping experience. In 2021 we will see new options with enhanced technology. In 2020, TietoEVRY and OP Financial Group joined forces to develop a pilot biometric payment card that enables secure payments on purchases exceeding 50 euros in value. Payments can be processed via a fingerprint sensor and fingerprint linked to the payment card, eliminating the need to touch the payment terminal. Similar experiments have also been carried out in Amazon Go stores using a payment method that scans palm prints.


2. Robotics – from autonomous deliveries to supply-chain transformation

Autonomous deliveries using driverless cars and drones are the future of retail, and big players such as Walmart and Walgreens have already started experimenting with these methods in the USA. In logistics centers and stores, robots can be used to speed up inventory management and fulfillment processes. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is becoming mainstream, creating value and agility across the value chain. RPA increases compliance, improves operations and service quality, and reduces the time spent on repetitive, non-value-adding daily tasks such as navigating through various applications and windows.


3. Artificial intelligence – adding value online and off

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to provide substantial opportunities for both online stores and traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses. With enhanced omnichannel capabilities, the line between online and offline is becoming increasingly blurred, bringing together the best of both worlds. With new habits established during the pandemic, many people are likely to continue favoring online shopping, and technical capabilities will support this trend. Safer shopping with the help of virtual fitting rooms featuring AR and VR capabilities, customer-facing applications such as chatbots, and recommendation engines that empower in-store staff are just a few examples of AI-enabled applications that can add value in the retail sector.


4. 5G – livestreams and everything online

The importance of a high-quality mobile internet connection became even more obvious as consumers spent more time online in 2020, and slow connections are no longer an option for retailers either. Livestreams are expected to be one of the biggest trends in marketing and communications in 2021 as they become an established channel for retailers to engage with their customers in the post-pandemic era, and now, with increased 5G capabilities being deployed, retailers can cast livestreams without delays. 5G will also bring major opportunities across the value chain from supply-chain transformation to in-store devices, taking advantage of IoT, gathering and utilizing more data, and enabling further enhancement to social commerce capabilities.

A modernized core system such as SAP S/4HANA provides a solid foundation, is a major enabler for the agile development of digital solutions, provides easy access to predictive data, and enables continuous innovation.

When we consider what is now possible from a technological point of view, and after seeing how quickly new processes and tools can be implemented when there is a need and a will in retail, 2021 looks set to be an exciting year for the sector, don’t you think?

Giselda Autio
Lead SAP Retail Consultant
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