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7 Retail Startup Trends, 2021: What Consumers Really Want

Guest Blog
14 February 2021
Sam Pettiford
Sam Pettiford

This is a guest post by George Taylor
(Founder, CEO & Chief Editor at
Gramersi.com)

Since launching Gramersi.com in early August last year (2020), we have published over 300 new stories/features on a wide range of retail and consumer startup brands. Whilst doing so, we’ve witnessed some obvious trends, which I’m going to share with you today.

Whilst COVID has hurt a lot of large high street outlets, and whilst we’ve seen the demise of some of our favourite British household names, the smaller retail brands have used this moment to their advantage. They’ve been agile, they’ve identified what the customer really wants, and they’ve given it to them - allowing them to boom.

Here’s what they are, and here are some examples, too.

Bucking The System: They’re Selling Online And Ditching The Retailers

It wasn’t too long ago that the idea of landing a big order (10-100k units) with a major retailer seemed like a dream come true. But the world has moved on. Why? Two reasons: 1. Margins. 2. Ecommerce. Now, startups are manning their own sales channels, are making better margins than ever before, and they’re turning the big retailers down.

Without mentioning any names, we wrote a story on a hugely successful startup that received multiple offers on BBC Dragon’s Den, and the Founder told me that he/she was receiving phone calls from buyers on a daily basis, and he/she was turning them down. I was quite surprised to hear that, but with their huge online presence, it made sense.

Social media, Instagram/Facebook shopping, Shopify and Klarna ARE the new retailers.

They’re Teaming Up To Open Pop-Ups: ‘Moveable Retail

Pop-Ups aren’t a new thing. They’ve been going for years. But a major shift started to happen back in 2013-14, when Appear Here started to boom. Suddenly, entrepreneurs could rent out derelict buildings and quirky spaces for a low fee. The future seemed obvious: why sign a 12-month retail tenancy, when you could utilize this platform?

Then BOXPARK came along, who ‘professionalised’ that concept, and they did it well.

But NOW what we’re seeing is a new trend: startups are now beginning to team up, because they’ve worked out that if ten startups team up for a day (or a week), each startup only has to pay 1 tenth of the rent. And ten social media platforms is better than one, when it comes to drumming up footfall on the day.

And, variety gives the customer a better shopping experience. These startups are moving from location to location, because they can. Welcome to the future: ‘moveable retail.’

They’re ‘Doing Good’ More Than Ever

Companies have always been charitable - whether that’s because of the kindness of their hearts, their own personal experiences and wanting to make a difference, or for tax benefits.

But startups are giving more to charity, and doing more good than ever before, and the consumer is buying into it, because it makes them feel a part of something, and it gives them a bigger incentive to buy.

Just one example is: ‘Camping-equipment specialist, OLPRO, - has funded the planting of 320 trees, following the first month of its brand new initiative, to plant one tree for each OLPRO tent and awning sold.’ But, the list of startups doing this now is endless.

They’re Becoming More Transparent Than The Blue Chips

Transparency has always been a buzzword, whether that means in a political context, or in a business context. The first major movement to really push for transparency in the supply chain was ‘Who Made My Clothes,’ set up by Fashion Revolution. Now, we’re seeing startups be more transparent than ever before.

An example is fashion brand, ZARAMIA AVA - who plants a tree with every purchase with their partners over at the One Tree Planted charity. Once a customer has bought an item, the brand sends them a gift certificate and the details of where their tree has been planted. Finally, customers know where their money is going, and how they are making a change.

They’re Revolutionising Subscription Services

If you go back 6-7-8 years ago, the term ‘subscription’ in business automatically, and by default meant subscription boxes - a new trend that burgeoned back in those days. But now, startups are starting to utilise subscription services in innovative ways. Why? Because it creates MRR/ARR - monthly/annual recurring revenue - again, a way to avoid retailers.

Lingerie startup, The Little Black Pants Club recently launched their ‘Luxe Digital Experience,’ which means that customers can receive digital consultations through COVID - enabling the brand to provide the first ever made-to-measure lingerie subscription service. And this is just ONE example of the many ways that startups are utilizing subscriptions.

They’re More Sustainable And Eco-Friendly Than Ever Before

Questions about society, morality and the impact humans are having on the environment has been around for a long time.

At first, we expected the larger corporations with the biggest impact in these areas to take control of this situation, and whilst some have done so, really, it’s the startups that are paving the way in this space. Here are some great examples of some brands we’ve covered, that are putting ethical practices into action:

Sampla: Sleek, Sustainable Footwear Made From Repurposed Apple Waste

Cleverstein Launches ‘Convertible’ Flat Shoe With Luxury Add-Ons

OneNine5: Eco-Conscious, Cruelty-Free, Unisex Travel Wash Bags

The Cheeky Panda: Paper Doesn’t Just Grow On Trees

I remember watching an episode of Dragon’s Den a few years back, where the entrepreneur pitching - mentioned that they gave 10% of their profits to charity. The dragons turned their nose up, because at the time, the idea of ‘profit for purpose’ seemed like a crazy one.

Fast forward a few years later, and the Dragons are now investing in these types of companies. And also, it’s what the customer wants. We teamed up with The Brandbean, smol, Troo, Teapigs and Dame on an eco-friendly consumer case study with over 4000 respondents, and the results were clear:

8.8/10 customers want to buy eco-friendly products. The future is blatant.

They’re More Health-Conscious Than Ever Before

Whether it’s chemical free, vegan or gluten free, there’ll be a startup that caters to your specific health requirements, and/or preferences. Scientists and clinical experts have their work cut out at the moment with the sheer volume of new products that are popping up which meet a wide range of health needs.

And we’ve featured a large number of them on Gramersi.com.

To Conclude:

The future is clear. Startups, with their agile mentalities are catering to the needs of consumers in revolutionary ways at a speed that large retailers often can’t. And during COVID, it makes complete sense as to why these businesses are booming. So if you’re thinking of launching a retail startup, the 7 points above should give you a starting point.

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