Bricks & Mortar RetailersExpert Opinion

What will retail look like after COVID-19?

In this week’s #askaretailexpert we answer questions about what the retail landscape will look like after the COVID-19 crisis.

Will people shop more or less remotely once the crisis is over?

The question really is, ‘how long will it take for the high street to deliver what the consumer desperately wants.’

Humans are social animals and being ‘cooped up’ for 12 weeks or more will have the effect of ‘invasion’ of places and spaces. The challenge for local authorities will be to announce (impossible immediately), to its community, that it has in place the groundwork and planning for a ‘re-booted’ high street. A ‘re-booted’ high street that combines a relevant retail mix with all the social requirements, for both adults and kids, that the community yearns for, and have always yearned for. The retailers, mostly large, that have ‘gone under’ had lost the plot ages ago and won’t be missed.

It will be the new blood that invigorates and inspires, and they are waiting in the wings. These new traders understand the effect on consumers of online and will bring to the high street a type of retailing that mirrors the experience the consumer gets online. If, and it’s a big if, the local authorities and conurbations can get their act together like Stockton-on-Tees and Altrincham, then the sales percentage of online to bricks and mortar will not radically change.

How can physical shops encourage the public to start shopping in the real world again?

Clear and focused propositions, features and benefits explained, and a slick transaction and delivery process will impress the high street shopper as it does on many terrific online shopping sites.

The dinosaurs that have departed the scene have left cavernous spaces that must be segmented into smaller spaces (ideal 50 sq. mt.) Local authorities like Stockton-on-Tees and Altrincham provide excellent examples of how to use these void spaces to provide much more than just retail attractions. The current restrictions will create pent up demand and it’s interesting to note that the consumers weekly household discretionary spend is: £2.8bn. That’s a lot to catch up on. Notwithstanding that, encouraging the consumer to ‘open up’ will require a reboot in the sense that expectations will exceed what has gone before and beware the high street and the local authority that ignores this and expects everything the revert to the ‘bad old ways.’

Has this crisis killed the high street? Is there still a need for it?

There is absolutely still a need for the high street.

What’s missing up and down the country are ‘gathering places”

Local communities have shunned high streets because local infrastructure and transports links have been cut or reduced, parking is expensive and restricted and the variety, or mix of attractive retail options and essential services have fallen away. Too many shops have been allowed to remain empty and quality places to socialise (vital), morning, afternoon and evening have virtually disappeared. Human connection is fading away. Many towns and villages are now being left without banks and post offices.

if the shopper doesn’t immediately grasp and understand the proposition on offer, the opportunity to sell evaporates.

Putting all this together should leave none of us surprised that retail sales in these conurbations has shrunk. This is even more depressing since the UK consumer’s retail spend per capita is actually up in calendar 2019.

If the one thing online selling has taught (or should have taught) bricks and mortar retailers is that if the shopper doesn’t immediately grasp and understand the proposition on offer, the opportunity to sell evaporates.

So many of the failed, large and small retailers,  refused to accept this digitally-led change of consumer behaviour, and pressed on with muddled propositions, poor merchandising displays, lack of demographic focus and poor service.

This is the competition the high street must face, deal with, and match perfectly.

What’s missing up and down the country are ‘gathering places” and once all the relevant bodies, landlords, councils and  tenants understand this, the high street will not die, on the contrary, it will thrive.

What can retailers & brands do to maintain front of mind presence during this time?

Take a leaf out of the following retailing pioneers and be inspired. There is so much to be inspired by and this help you enormously.

b8ta is a retail company, founded in San Francisco, with a chain of retail stores which serve as hi-tech presentation centres for audio/visual, health, home, kids, lifestyle and outdoor products.  Immediately next to every item is a tablet that tells you everything you need to know about the product. If a customer then wants to buy, they can either take it away with them, have it delivered, or go to the site later and buy it then.

The key to b8ta is the family of products that all connect with the aspirations and needs of the target client. The shops are cool and great places to be in and service is always at hand to advise and guide.

b8ta is focused on a specific demographic market and today’s high street retailer must accept this and adopt this niche and relevant product approach.  Trying to ‘dance at too many weddings’ is retail death.

Glossier, a New York fashion, beauty, arts, and lifestyle brand, opened a short term London pop-up that caused mass hysteria when it first opened in November 2019. After record-breaking footfall, it decided to extend its London presence and will remain open for the rest of 2020.

Its Floral Street, Covent Garden shop knows all too well the importance of building connection, both online and in-store. Defined Instagram (social media is crucial for start-ups) places in the shop are mobbed. So, not only has its creative team designed areas intended to spark conversation between consumers (mirrors facing one another on a makeup stand, for example) but it has also ensured that the funky shop design has taken its inspiration from London style.

Glossier has developed successful trading and merchandising strategies that it used to ensure the company stayed ahead of its competitors many of whom have disappeared or gone into administration. began as an online brand but now invites people to ‘meet in real life.’

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