It’s no secret that the retail industry was hit hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Storefronts around the world ranging from international retailers to local mom & pop shops were all affected by local lockdowns, social distancing, and temporary closures. Retailers had to adapt on-the-go to find new ways to engage with their audience that followed new guidelines laid out by local municipalities. Here are 6 trends in retail, brought about by the pandemic, that we think are here to stay for the long haul.
One of the biggest terms in the North American retail industry that was created from this pandemic is “curbside pickup”. Retailers of all shapes and sizes created curbside pickup services in one way or another to help minimize the loss of sales from in-store shopping. For those who don’t know, this hybrid between brick & mortar retail and e-commerce allows customers to order products online and drive to physical stores to pick-up their reserved order. This has helped combine the convenience and speed of e-commerce with the luxury of not having to pay those expensive shipping fees.
However, curbside pickup has created one pain point for retailers – long queues at entrances. While in-store shopping is limited, long queues begin to form at many retail entrances where people wait to pick-up their orders. Store staff managing the entrances often get overwhelmed with impatient customers and local social distancing guidelines are typically broken in the chaos. Many retailers have turned to queue management systems to help control physical queues that form at brick & mortar entrances. These systems can range from booking time-slot reservations, SMS notifications, QR codes on site, or physical ticketing kiosks that allow visitors get in line virtually and wait from a safe distance.
These systems have helped retailers determine their peak hours to maximize operating efficiencies, acted as a secondary touchpoint or takeaway for brand recognition, increased trust amongst the brand name in the public eye, and has ultimately optimized waiting times for customers.
The rise of digital marketing in the past decade has forced more traditional mediums of advertising, like print, to take a backseat when it comes to retailers’ marketing strategies with companies focusing on the likes of SEO, web, social media, experiential, and video content. However, with more people staying home and looking for “new” ways to connect with brands, many retailers went back to their roots by adding a more customized touch to their marketing mix. One of these demographics whose lifestyles’ have been most drastically impacted by stay-at-home measures, has been that of Millenials.
As a demographic that’s used to living in a digital world, print marketing and direct mail has allowed brands to connect with Millenials on a more personal and tangible level, as they spend more time at home while work-from-home becomes normalized and start families of their own. These physical takeaways create lasting impressions and have helped build stronger relationships and brand recognition.
The pandemic has shown us that you can still buy larger purchases, like furniture, cars, and even houses, without seeing them in person. Live streaming, original content, and conferencing technology like Zoom have allowed customers to view products and make decisions on large purchases from the comforts of their own home.
Cadillac was a pioneer to this trend back in 2019 with the launch of their Cadillac Live showroom. The concept, designed by agency, isobar, and space built by ICON, lets users go on a personal virtual tour with a real-life customer service representative. The attendant in the showroom is equipped with a camera where they’re able to get up-close and personal with the cars to show the customers every detail they would like to see.
With in-store shopping limited or requiring an appointment because of pandemic restrictions, virtual showrooms can become more commonplace across a wide variety of retailers. With it saving customers a commute to the store, we can see this trend sticking around even after in-store shopping regulations return to normal.
Despite the restrictions that has been placed on brick & mortar retailers, 2020 saw several international brands open standalone stores in major urban centres across Canada. Major household brands from a variety of industries like Aeropostale, Away, Ray-Ban, Avon, and Polestar all opened their first Canadian locations in cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
Brand will expand their brick & mortar presence slowly focusing on larger flagship stores rather than smaller boutiques. With brands cutting out wholesalers and looking to sell direct-to-consumer for increased margins, we look to see this trend continue to grow as Canada and the rest of North America recovers from the effects of the pandemic.
Even once a vaccine is widely distributed around the world and international travel returns to normal, PPE items will still be offered to retail customers and staff to provide peace of mind when shopping at brick & mortar locations. Since the start of the pandemic, one can find a variety of counter guards and sanitizing stations at most cash and customer service desks in any type of retailer – not to mention face masks being worn by all store employees (and face shields if you’re in foodservice or healthcare). We can’t guarantee that all customers will be forced to wear masks indoors even once vaccinated, but it’ll be more than likely that all store staff, at the very least, will be taking health & safety a lot more seriously going forward. Brands are looking to strengthen their public image and increase customer retention and what better way to do it than by showing that they are putting customer safety top of mind.
Experiential activations and pop-up shops were at an all-time leading up to March 2020. Brands were using pop-up shops to test new markets as the expanded their brick & mortar footprints. If the pandemic has done anything for in-person retail, it has shown us that people are starved for physical interactions and events. We expect to see the resurgence of experiential activations and marketing campaigns that go with it. Brands will take full advantage of designing their spaces with engaging technology and a wide variety of print to complete the branded experience.