Hottest Retail Trends of 2021

E-commerce was the name of the game in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.
online shopping

The shifts that solidified in 2020 and 2021 have ensured that the retail industry has changed for good, and what consumers are searching for in their online inquiries is top of mind for businesses. In 2021, U.S. consumers are expected to spend $993.3 billion on e-commerce, up 17.9% from 2020, according to Conductor. 

“Digital sales soared like we’ve never seen before. After a year of online shopping, customers expect retailers to know what they like,” Seth Besmertnik, CEO of Conductor, told Retail Leader. “So, the full online customer experience needs to be taken into consideration.”

Tech Adoption


Without being able to go into brick-and-mortar stores, consumers still made purchases online by utilizing technology. In fact, consumers sought out tech that allowed them to try on products at home. 

Since March 2020, searches for trying on glasses virtually have increased 73%, with many searching for apps that enable virtual try-ons. 

As consumers have looked online for their needs, brands and retailers have invested in virtual reality and augmented reality technology to give consumers a closer look at their products. Yeti’s latest technology push allows consumers to see products in their own spaces, while Walmart has invested in a virtual fitting room company that gives customers a better understanding of how clothes will look on them. Etsy also recently launched a virtual house featuring products customers can hover over and purchase. 

Several other categories also saw huge increases in online search activity in 2021. As more people took up outdoor activities since the start of the pandemic, searches for golf shoes rose 195% since March 2020. In addition, searchers for boutique stores have increased on average 153%.

The way consumers shopped also majorly shifted, and retailers had to adapt almost overnight in early 2020. 

“I don’t think many brands were prepared for the change in sales that occurred in March of 2020, but what we know now is that a brands’ online presence is more important than ever,” Besmertnik said. “I’m sure this was the awakening they needed to learn the importance of the online customer experience, along with quickly adapting to shopping trends like curbside pickup and online delivery. According to our data, in March 2020 alone, searches around ‘curbside pickup’ and in ‘in store pickup’ saw an increase of over 474%.”

Holiday Trends


Heading into the holiday season, the shopper behaviors of the past are being replaced by e-commerce, Conductor found, with the traditional Black Friday shopping extended by days or weeks online. 

“The around-the-block lines that defined Black Friday for years are history,” Conductor reported. “They’re replaced by online searches for top merchants, products and categories.”

Gift cards have been a top trend for gifts, with search volume revealing a three-way tie among Amazon, online gaming giant Roblox and Visa gift card distributor Vanilla. There was a 40% increase in overall e-commerce gift card sales in 2020 and an 80% increase in eGift (digital gift card) sales. 

However, the top retailers expected to get traffic for Black Friday this year include Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Amazon and Macy’s. This year, consumers are also expected to purchase more of their wants, compared to last year’s needs. That means apparel and electronics are likely to be hot items, with high demand for Nintendo and Apple products. 

Conductor also found four popular holiday season 2021 categories based on search volumes: baby and toddler products and clothing; bags; wedding-related items; and trendy pants, jeans and TikTok favorites.

The top category correlates with a post-COVID-19 baby boom happening in some regions in the U.S. 

“It’s an ideal time for retailers to optimize their websites for baby categories and take advantage of the holiday and late-winter markets,” Conductor said.

As consumers return to traveling, bags are also a hot commodity, though backpacks are also very in demand as schools resume in-person learning. Similarly, the return of formal events has led to a boom in wedding-related items. In addition, the rise of TikTok and in-app shopping has increased interest of viral products on the platform, with Levi’s and Zara leading the way on the app, Conductor found.

Brick-and-Mortar Changes


As e-commerce has risen in popularity, in-store shopping as evolved. To bring consumers back into stores, retailers are improving retail experiences with new technology, more streamlined check-out processes and innovative store concepts.

A top example is Dick’s Sporting Goods, which introduced Dick’s House of Sport with extensive athletic facilities for consumers to play, try out products and attend sporting events.

“Whether the consumer is shopping online or in-person, what matters most is the experience. We’ve seen brands that create personalized and engaging experiences are being seen — by more than just their usual audience,” Besmertnik said. “A good example of this is retailer Nordstrom, which added 20% more items for shoppers to choose from in 2021, focusing on home, active and kids. As a result, their digital sales in Q1 2021 grew 23%. What we’re seeing in both the digital and in-person shopping realm is that shoppers are craving a tailored and interactive experience — one that’s personalized and engaging, and it’s not surprising that it’s translating to brick and mortar.”