column 2021 in the crystal ball – four predictions for retail and supply chains

Van den Broecke makes four predictions about retail and supply chains in 2021.

Regardless of whether there will be a vaccine soon next year, retailers will be put to the test. This includes changes in consumer behavior, such as the significant increase in online purchases. I make four predictions about retail and supply chains in 2021.

1. Closer collaboration between man and machine
In 2020, huge quantities of e-commerce orders were processed by warehouses and this trend will continue in 2021. In order to handle these large volumes, it is necessary not only to deploy personnel but also to look at support through automation and robotics. It is expected that retailers will continue to invest in people and machines in the distribution center in 2021. In this way, they can increase capacity and enable fast stocking of stores to meet the high demands of (e-commerce) customers.

2. Streamlining the return process is becoming a must
Logically, with the increase in the number of online orders, the number of returns also increases. Normally retailers prepare for returns after Christmas at the beginning of the year, but now they need to be prepared for more parcels returned throughout the year.

This therefore requires a more streamlined return process, so that the operating result is not under pressure. An effective warehouse management system (WMS) offers a solution to streamline the returns process; which means that returns can be made available for sale in-store or online again twice as quickly.

3. Balance between convenience and sustainability
The expansion of delivery options will also force consumers to think more consciously about the sustainability choices they will make in 2021. Ordered today, delivered tomorrow has become the norm and the number of retailers offering extra (fast) delivery services based on a subscription is also increasing.

In 2021, however, we will see more consumers consciously make a trade-off between fast delivery and the impact their purchases and delivery options have on the environment. KPMG’s customer research recently found that 58 percent of consumers are concerned about climate change. Many retailers are already committed to sustainability and this topic will undoubtedly be high on the agenda for the coming year, especially if we can go back to normal halfway through the year.

4. Digital revolution of retail
While drone deliveries may not have quite taken off yet, more and more investments are being made in technology. Take contactless payment, for example: this was an essential part of shopping in physical stores this year. Substantial investments were also made in technologies such as self-scanning. This also shows how innovative and resilient the retail and logistics sector are.

In 2021, we will no doubt see more investment in technologies that benefit the retail sector. Think of investments in big data and analysis platforms to collect more valuable customer data. Or robotics and automation in distribution centers and solutions for optimizing the last mile of the delivery process. In 2020, many companies have laid the foundation for a cloud platform approach. We will see this more and more in 2021, now that internal processes of new initiatives such as dark stores and microfulfillment centers, for example, are being improved. Moreover, this is no longer only available to the major parties. Both large and small organizations will consider investing in intelligent technology in order to be future-proof.

Pieter Van den Broecke
managing director Benelux and Germany at Manhattan Associates

About Manhattan Associates
Manhattan Associates is a technology leader in supply chain and omnichannel commerce. We bring together information across the organization, from sales at the front to supply chain execution at the back. Our software, platform technology and experience enable our customers to grow profitably. Manhattan Associates designs, builds and delivers advanced cloud and on-premise solutions so you can reap the benefits of the omnichannel marketplace both in-store and through the network or fulfillment center. More information can be found at: or ‘
(source: MA, image above: Chen Hu / Unsplash)


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