4 cross-industry trends that will reshape experience management strategies in 2021

Paul Tiedt | Dec 9, 2020 Paul Tiedt 12/09/20

From the emphasis on contactless experiences to the mass migration to new-and-evolving digital channels, it’s impossible to overstate the magnitude of change that took place in 2020. To help brands ensure their experience management (XM) strategies were keeping pace, SMG fielded more than 25 (and counting) industry-specific studies using our patented mobile research app.

With 2021 on the near horizon, we looked back on those results with an eye toward the future to help brands determine which trends were likely here to stay—and how to reallocate resources accordingly. While we’ve published detailed trend reports for the restaurant, retail, convenience store, grocery, and healthcare industries, here are the 4 cross-industry trends that stood out most.  

Trend 1: The exponential surge in digital usage will continue—and could reform in-store strategies

While e-commerce channels and consumer-facing mobile technologies have been reshaping the customer experience for more than a decade, most brands’ digital transformation initiatives have lagged expectations. But as non-essential retailers were forced to halt in-store operations and restaurants pivoted to off-premise dining models, digital quickly became the primary point of interaction and brands wisely accelerated their efforts.


Now, even as late adopters have grown used to pulling up an app whenever they want to make a purchase, that ease and convenience could influence how consumers prefer to pay during in-store trips as well. With 1 in 4 respondents worried about contracting the coronavirus specifically while waiting in the checkout line, our research shows growing interest in scan-and-go store models—especially among younger demographics—which allow customers to bypass the checkout altogether.


Already popular among UK grocers, this model is being tested stateside by the likes of Walmart and Amazon. Consumers are well-accustomed to self-checkout options and now with the rising popularity of digital wallet payment options, scan-and-go is the logical next step for in-store innovation. To keep these efforts customer-centric, brands will have to integrate existing feedback channels into their mobile apps and monitor shifts in key drivers across purchase types.

Trend 2: Price-conscious shoppers will continue prioritizing value amid looming economic uncertainty

With the financial impact of the pandemic still being felt by many, consumers in the U.S. and UK alike have already scaled back their holiday shopping budgets. The downstream effects of the recession will likely carry over into 2021 and force brands across industries to revisit their value propositions while leaning in on promotional strategies to drive loyalty.


Even in the healthcare sector, where many continue to put off elective procedures and routine checkups until the pandemic is contained, 55% of patients reported that they’ve looked online to comparison-shop providers. To maintain patient loyalty, healthcare organizations must work to deliver more price transparency to weather the economic headwinds ushered in by the pandemic.

Trend 3: Heightened health + safety concerns will linger + transform service expectations

Our research continues to show more than half of consumers report being concerned about their wellbeing during in-store visits, which means the onus is on brands to communicate their commitment to safety clearly and consistently. While the basic expectations remain the same—PPE, social distancing, and staff cleaning frequently touched surfaces—brands have to make their efforts visible to customers and ensure that employees aren’t just going through the motions.


Moreover, consumers are researching online before they head out to the stores, so it’s important brands use social channels and location-specific webpages to communicate in-store protocols, adjustments in store hours (or dedicated shopping windows for at-risk populations), and capacity limitations.

Trend 4: The employee experience will take center stage as brands look to curb turnover

While uniform brand-level efforts are paramount, it ultimately comes down to your front-line teams to make customers feel safe—and to inspire them to deliver on expectations, brands need to demonstrate they’re prioritizing the employee experience as well. As so much emphasis is put on rebuilding consumer trust, it’s easy to overlook the fact that front-line teams are putting their own health + safety at risk during each shift.


With the high costs associated with employee turnover, HR teams need EX initiatives that foster an ongoing dialogue and demonstrate their commitment by following through on feedback with tangible actions in the field. With our research methodology rooted in The Service-Profit Chain—which articulates the linkage between employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and profitable growth—we consistently see that best-in-class brands make EX efforts a central point of emphasis in their XM strategies.

Keep tabs on the top trends impacting your industry

While those are the high-level trends I wanted to call out, we recently published industry-specific reports that break down the 4 top trends for the restaurant, retail, convenience store, grocery, and healthcare industries. I encourage you to take a look and reach out if you’d like to learn more about how SMG is partnering with clients to ensure their XM programs help them continue to adapt with agility.

Paul Tiedt

Senior Vice President, Research

Customer Experience Update