There are many articles written about the “Retail Apocalypse” and how brick-and-mortar stores will continue to decline with growing prominence as online sales increase. It is even more relevant in the current state of the world where many physical stores are temporarily shut down and the primary way to get daily supplies is online. In the past several weeks retailers all over the world have focused on beefing up their online marketplace to ensure customers can shop safely and conveniently. When thinking about the current trend in retail it is difficult to not wonder if this current level of online shopping will continue after Covid-19 and whether it will simply accelerate the further demise of brick and mortar retail.

For these difficult times I’d rather focus on the bright side and a more positive outlook for retail stores, new product development and retail innovation in general… And have come to the conclusion that the recent pandemic may in fact provide an opportunity to revive brick and mortar stores for three main reasons.

  1. Long periods of Social Distancing have created the need and longing for the in-person, human experience, something only physical stores can provide.
  2. Consumers are now more sensitive to authenticity and trust due to the rise of fake goods on the internet, which gives big brands a chance to bring them back to their physical buildings.
  3. A lot of new technologies and tools have either integrated the online to offline shopping experience or boost the physical shopping experience overall, which will drive many online shoppers back to the physical stores.

Human Experience

Social distancing is a practice of keeping space between yourself and other people as a response to reduce the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Ever Since the outbreak many countries have either encouraged citizens or enforced laws on mass gatherings, working remotely, and travel bans. As a result, many people have minimal to zero opportunity to be outside socializing with others. Due to this period of isolation, we can expect an increase in the number of people going to physical stores after the pandemic to get a more physical human experience.

For large brick and mortar retailers, instead of competing with e-commerce as the point of purchase, focusing on the community building aspect of the store may attract people to come to the actual store. Some of recent strategies I’ve discussed with retailers include adding gathering spaces such as cafes or sitting areas, events and activities to engage the local community as well as displays and collections that reflect the value of your customers.

Authenticity and Trust in Brands 

Counterfeit products are problematic for online retailers as consumers often have a hard time identifying fake goods from the real ones. One of the only ways to ensure that they are not buying fake goods is to buy from trustworthy and known online retailers and brands. This became even more of a concern with an increased number of people purchased fake products online after the outbreak of Covid-19. With panic-buying leaving a lot of stores empty, many turned to the internet to look for essential supplies such as face masks, sanitizer, and hand wash etc. This gave criminals the opportunity to make money off of substandard products and unauthorized medications. No matter how well retailers and consumers safeguard themselves, the security risk will persist, so long as the point of purchase remains online.

This suggests a higher level of awareness toward the authenticity of products after the pandemic and may draw people back to stores for important supplies that they can see, touch, smell and examine to make sure the product quality is up to standard before they purchase.

New Technologies & Tools 

Lots of sanitation measures were implemented in stores that were opened during Covid-19 including body temperature check, hand sanitizer stations, floor stickers for safety distance reminders. These measures will probably stay even after the end of the pandemic and the stores who maintain high sanitation standards will have an advantage over those who don’t give the public heightened hygiene concerns.

Besides sanitation, new retail technologies that have become very popular during the pandemic will continue their success including, curb-side pick-up, BORIS (buy online and pick up in store) which allowed customers to get their supplies without having to spend time in the store and retail buying apps that allows buyers, merchandisers and category managers to gain inspiration without going to trade shows, buying trips or show room visits. While this may seem counter intuitive to physical stores, by integrating the online and offline experience it makes the customer journey more wholesome overall. Retailers can create strategies centering around these new technologies that provide a physical touch point and also an opportunity to bring customers into the stores to find the latest innovative products. For more information regarding the latest retail technologies contact me here. 

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