Last year, we explored the ways in which the retail sector adjusted to the pandemic by refocusing on trust, support and safety. While retailers were initially hit hard by plummeting sales, once the sector established a level of security – redistributing staff, halting rental services and enhancing hygiene – retailers took the opportunity to rebuild around the digital economy.
The number of new stores on the e-commerce platform Shopify increased by 71% in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the first, while Amazon has enjoyed a 74% boost to its share price in 2020. The move to e-commerce, however, does not preclude an appetite to return to in-store experiences in the inter-Covid period, when shoppers will be looking for human connection, in-person customer service, and serendipitous browsing. Retail Think Tank predicts that UK retailers should prepare for a brighter outlook in the second half of 2021, with sales growth expected to be between flat and +3% for the year.
With flexible working set to remain a feature of our daily lives, the re-localisation of retail will provide new opportunities for brands, as local consumption continues to be adopted during tight lockdowns and tourists fail to provide footfall.
Bricks and mortar: Stores are embedding the hyper-reactivity of the digital world into their physical infrastructures. We Are Locals, for example, creates one-stop e-commerce platforms for high street retailers, bringing local florists, grocers and bookshops into the virtual realm, while Virgil Abloh’s recently opened Off-White flagship store in Miami points to a future in which retail spaces will not be set in stone but will be able to providea malleable shopping experience.
Employment: During the health crisis, all eyes have been on retailers that failed to provide adequate support for employees and prioritised profits over people. A UK Benenden Health study shows that 38% of retail firms have seen an employee leave their company because their mental wellbeing wasn’t cared for. Retailers are also equipping staff with the tools they need to provide mental health support to others, such as skincare brand Dermalogica’s industry-wide EQ course.
Logistics: Although customers are shopping from home, convenience is more essential than ever. As such, third-party services are elevating, expediting and securing the delivery of online orders. In New York and Los Angeles, FAST AF aims to deliver items from select popular brands to shoppers in an average of 27 minutes, while Route is a visual package tracking service that allows shoppers to view and track multiple orders in real time.
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