How Will Stores And Their Customers Act When The Pandemic Is Over
By Walter Loeb, one of the top retail
consultants in the world
We all have been wondering when we can go back to
shop. How will we shop? Where will we be able to shop? How did the coronavirus
CORVID-19 pandemic change our habits, and what did it teach all of us?
There is no certainty. However, I believe that there have been some major
changes in purchasing behavior, lasting changes which I will explore here. After
all, we have experienced prolonged confinement with stores shuttered throughout
the United States. It may be that some states will open sooner than the seven
states that have agreed to coordinate their actions around New York State, but
this report will attempt to reflect the national perspective. At least in the
near-term, I see:
1. Major department stores will probably open partially. Lack of
associates, lack of fresh fashion merchandise, and lack of proper testing
stations will make opening very tentative. Some stores may keep some floors
closed. Probably, stores will open with fewer entrances and separate exits doors
in order for store managements to control crowds.
2. Specialty stores will open quickly if they can. Once specialty stores
can open, their assortment must reflect the right season. Some stores may not
open because lack of cash, and their underperformance before the pandemic
started will prevent them from bringing in fresh merchandise.
3. Fewer sales people will be in stores. It is likely that the call back
to work will have a smaller than anticipated response. Some former associates
may still be sick or will have chosen to work somewhere else.
4. Limited merchandise assortments may be the norm. I have discussed this
topic in several reports in past weeks. Depending on when stores reopen, the
assortment of fashion merchandise for women, men, and children must be keyed to
the demands of the season or the next season. For a late June opening, I would
expect early Fall and Back-to-School merchandise. September would be Fall or
early Winter goods. That fresh merchandise must be what’s offered to drive
purchases, but it’s not clear what will be available for stores to serve their
customers or which stores will be able to acquire the fresh goods.
5. Proximity services will be in demand. I expect local services like
Barber shops and Beauty salons to open quickly after states grant permission to
open. However, there is a real problem since these workers are in close contact
with clients (at a 92.17% closeness rating to their customers according to a St.
Louis Federal Reserve study). Occupational and physical therapists work at 90.5%
proximity according to the same study. Yet, it is likely that we all will rush
to get our hair done and get back into physical shape despite the proximity. We
will all have to learn how to manage proximity by wearing face masks and gloves.
6. Fewer will travel. Zoom has changed our lives. In speaking to several
executives, I heard that many now believe that they can cut their travel and
hold Zoom meetings instead. The lock-up period has taught us all how to use Zoom
for business and family meetings. With reduced staffing, management of many
companies will be forced to hold interactive meetings from their home base. It
will reduce the travel budgets.
7. High fashion will survive. High fashion designers will be in demand as
luxury stores will want to show new and exciting new ladies’ apparel. This will
create an opportunity for the most resourceful designers to translate their
ideas into new fashion trends that people will admire. There will be a need for
new fashion trends in order for stores to attract their loyal customers. And,
this will flow down to all other stores, too.
8. Pay by credit card. Money may be infected. There will probably be a
surge of credit card use in all stores. Money has been handled by many people
who might have been exposed to the coronavirus. People will be reluctant to
touch money unless they can sanitize it first.
9. Quick delivery now expected. The industry will need sanitized vehicles
and a protocol to keep the vehicles in pristine conditions. The overnight
delivery of Amazon, Walmart, Target, and others has become a standard that all
major companies must aspire to, and now consistently meet.
10.Testing in some form will be used. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York
State believes that all people should be tested before entering a store with
multiple customers. I am sure someone will stand there and take the temperature
of shoppers as they enter the store. (There are all sorts of other tests that
use a laboratory for analysis but that would take time and delay shoppers.)
There will be sales to lure customers back into stores, but I believe that many
customers will be immune to sales, since they discovered that they can live with
less – much less. Any sales will have to offer a true value, not be a bland
repeat of last week’s promotion.
The risk of a second wave of coronavirus will hopefully never be a concern. I
expect some vaccine or immunization to help us withstand the threat of the virus
in the future. However, stores must not be a breeding ground for future viruses;
customers have been trained to be more aware of their surroundings and expect
their shopping destinations to be sanitary, clean, spacious, and attractive.
There are many more factors that stores will consider. I expect discretionary
spending to be very meager and carefully managed, since everyone has lived
through a period of isolation and felt the effect of personal assets shrinking
because of lost wages and stock market action. As a result, some initial
behaviors we probably experience will lead to lasting changes in stores. Some
units of major chains may never open again. The changed purchasing behavior will
force a change in the look of stores and how they are run. Store managements
will have to adjust to the new norm.
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