By Stacey Berthon, Senior Vice President
What a crazy and tumultuous year. We’ve fortunately seen stores open back up, social distancing requirements loosen, and all of us return to a more normal routine. However, in the retail world – what is normal?
Pre-Covid, we all heard brick and mortar retail/entertainment was dying. And once the pandemic forced lockdowns, social distancing requirements, and limited capacities, it appeared this was the final chapter for retail as we know it. Anyone who clung to the thought that online shopping couldn’t be used to buy everything or would never be widely used by a large share of the population watched as online shopping became the norm for almost every shopper. I mean, it’s kind of hard to shop in a store when most of them are closed! Plus, there’s no need to go out when you can watch anything you want on-demand. So, over the past year, it seems virtually everyone has become proficient at meeting their needs using the click of a mouse and most of us have become accustomed to the ease and convenience of online shopping.
Shoppers aren’t going back to their old patterns of shopping for many things. I’ve heard many experts claim the Covid-induced lockdowns expedited the transition to e-commerce 5-10 years. I believe that’s true, but an interesting pattern emerged with the brick and mortar retailers and their customers.
First, retailers really had no choice but to adapt or go out of business. Companies across the country stared into an unknown and unprecedented future and got creative to meet their customers needs. Of course, this included selling their goods via online platforms but that can be expensive and time consuming for companies who didn’t already have the infrastructure and staff in place. Soon after the lockdowns started, we saw retailers begin offering curbside deliveries where they would bring your purchases straight to your car. You could Facetime a sales associate and they would be your personal shopper. Fitness Centers still offered class training, but you did it over a Zoom call. And my favorite stroke of inspiration came from a local restaurant who would include a roll of toilet paper with every take-out purchase during the early months of the pandemic.
One silver lining from this upheaval is we saw proof that retailers really can up their game and their customers will appreciate their effort and stay loyal. I firmly believe retailers will continue finding more ways they can meet their shoppers’ needs well beyond just online shopping.
The second pattern I see that will be great for retailers is a basic human element. Who wants to do all their entertainment and shopping online from their couch at home? It is convenient but boring —humans still crave social interaction. Even those who preferred online shopping before the lockdowns may have realized they really did miss going out to visit stores and entertainment venues. And now with retailers intently focusing on satisfying their customers, the act of shopping in stores is becoming a sought-after occurrence. The pendulum is swinging back to brick and mortar retail, so the real question now is how long and how far? The savvy retailers are positioned to take advantage of their revived in-person popularity. In next week’s blog, we’ll look closer at how that factor is shaping current and future retail developments.