Expert Insight: Four long-term retail trends in post-COVID-19 world

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Expert Insight: Four long-term retail trends in post-COVID-19 world

By Lynn Gonsior and Bill Chidley - 03/27/2020
Lynn Gonsior and Bill Chidley

Retailers are incredibly resilient. Despite everything that’s been thrown at the retail world (from economic turndowns to the threat of a literal apocalypse) it has the ingenuity and perseverance to rise above and emerge stronger.

During any stressful time, the temptation may be to focus on short-term performance via aggressive marketing and sales promotions. The smarter play, however, is to focus on the future.

Regardless of the overall impact of this Coronavirus pandemic, the cost of writing off the rest of 2020 and planning to hit reset next year is enormous. Instead, HIT RESET NOW. 

There’s real opportunity in using this moment of pause to take stock of your brand and retail experience by asking questions like “What are the right moves to make now for the current state our customers are living in?” and “How can we clarify our offering to be consumers’ go-to when they re-emerge?”

But first, answer this: Where do you want to be when we come out of this?

While the responses we get to that question are often mixed, we’re seeing four main consumer-driven trends worth considering for the future.

Four Long-Term Retail Trends in Post-COVID-19 World

1) When this is over, there will be an expectation for authenticity. Consumers will reward brands that “do the right thing” during this crisis. That means telling the truth, valuing people over profits, and using resources for the greater good. What happens to brands AFTER this pandemic will be heavily influenced by what they did DURING it. In short, consumers tend to reward good corporate stewardship.

2) There will be a demand for new experiences. Brands should be ready to deliver experiences that are optimistic, entertaining, and fresh. Regardless of how long the actual quarantine periods last, retailers should prepare to offer experiences that feel metaphorically like spring.  In other words, folks want a transition away from the gloom. After being in isolation for weeks and months, consumers will want to make themselves feel better and start fresh – which usually means buying new stuff.

3) Consumers will have a heightened sensitivity to our mutual vulnerability and the role we play in keeping everyone healthy. Environments will have an ongoing expectation to be clean and simple, and we may have a different sense of our personal space. COVID-19 will probably have an impact on how we feel about crowds and tight spaces.

4) Social distancing will drive more consumers to digital platforms. People who never once used a service like BOPIS, DoorDash, etc. will adopt new behaviors during this pandemic. And guess what – they’ll probably keep using them long after it’s over too. 

Retailers and restaurants will need to adjust their operations and financials for a new reality. While these gradual behavior changes weren’t unexpected, the timeline will undoubtedly be ramped up: customer habits we believed were coming in five years may be here in the next five months.

The takeaway here? Don’t panic. Your community will still be there on the other side of this pandemic. And they’ll be eager to reconnect. So, it’s up to you to be the destination they desire most.

Companies that play the long game will benefit. That means focusing on what can happen in the remainder of 2020—a year that’s still relatively new. Think long-term, act now and set yourself up for a strong start to 2021.

Lynn Gonsior is partner and COO of ChangeUp Inc., a Dayton, Ohio-based retail design consultancy. Bill Chidley is partner and the insights & strategy lead at the firm.