In the race to build the perfect customer-centric experience, retailers remain invested in integrated technology and friction-free retail that wins over new customers while prioritizing customer retention and loyalty. But retail customers and retail technology are far from static targets. With a new calendar year on the horizon, it’s clear that new retail technologies, combined with shifting customer desires and priorities, are continuing to evolve the trends driving transformation across the retail industry.

What exactly will those trends look like, and how can these forecasted trends help retailers adapt their business strategies to stay agile and adaptive in an ever-changing retail landscape? From surprising retail partnerships to new in-demand retail services, here are some of the emerging trends expected to drive retail transformation in 2022 and beyond.

Direct-to-Consumer Shopping Will Increase in Popularity

As the calendar flips forward to 2022, direct-to-consumer brands are leaning even harder into selling and distribution channels that cut out the middleman and encourage repeat purchases and long-standing brand relationships.

While these DTC models aren’t always subscription-based in nature, those brands are leveraging a wide range of loyalty programs and offerings—from cash-back rewards to an expanded physical retail presence—to make repeat buys not only more practical, but also more affordable. Consumer comfort with DTC brands has steadily increased in recent years, which makes the barrier for converting less imposing for those retail brands.

Contact-Free Payments Will Become More Common

From smartwatch wallets to health and sanitation concerns, contact-free payments have become commonplace in many physical retail settings. Contact-free payment options offer the convenience of speed and payment method, and they save customers from having to touch keypads and other point-of-sale technology that might be covered with germs from other customers.

Research shows that more than 58 percent of retailers currently offer contact-free payments, while 92 percent of consumers use mobile payment options at least occasionally in physical retail environments. As contact-free payments become more of the standard, retailers could be sending the wrong message if they drag their heels on this simple convenience.

Strategic Brand Partnerships Will Create Crossover Experiences

To win the battle against online retail giants like Amazon, many retailers are embracing new strategic partnerships that combine unlikely brands to cross-pollinate retail spaces with consumers that might not otherwise visit those stores. Target, for example, has become a physical retail host to brands like Ulta, while Kohl’s has done the same with Sephora.

While these pairings might seem surprising, they’ve proven very effective at helping both brands in a partnership as they seek to strengthen their relationship with specific consumer audiences. Expect more instances of this crossover approach in 2022 and beyond.

Friction-Free Returns Will Win Over Customer Loyalties

Returns have become a surprising battleground for retailers as they try to win over customers frustrated with traditional retail pain points. Returns have typically been a source of friction and frustration for shoppers uninterested in making extra trips to stores, or waiting in line at customer service desks.

To alleviate that pain point, some retailers are now improving their return experience by offering free return shipping for products ordered online. Another popular retail strategy is issuing returns to the original form of payment (such as a credit card), rather than forcing customers to accept a gift card or other alternative refund.

Buy-Now, Pay-Later Will Increase Consumer Spending Power

When you go online to purchase an item, you may notice an option to use a payment program to cover that purchase, rather than buying it in one lump sum. These “buy now, pay later” services have become very popular among consumers, and now represent a $100 billion retail industry.

Consumers love these payment options because of the flexibility they offer. In return, retailers receive full payment for purchases, and may be able to secure larger purchases that consumers are now comfortable buying because of the payment plan offered through the retail website. As the popularity of payment programs continues to rise, this payment option may quickly become a crucial differentiating factor when consumers choose where to do their shopping.

With retailers facing such precarious and unpredictable economic forecasts, small competitive advantages can make a big difference in retaining and building your customer base. Cox Media can help you modernize your retail advertising strategy to highlight this customer-centric brand experience, and to reach your highest-value customers through the best digital ad channels.