Pandemic Shopping and the Future of Retail
With the 2020 holiday season behind us, we’ve now had time to digest what was arguably one of the strangest shopping seasons for retailers. Depending on the city and state, retailers were experiencing anything from reduced capacities to increasingly long lines to complete store closures. October to December is one of the busiest — and most important — quarters for shopping, with these months accounting for a significant portion of yearly revenue. But this year’s season signified something more — it showed us new pandemic shopping trends that are shaping the industry. Wondering what to expect for the future of retail? We’ve rounded up the key takeaways from the holiday shopping season.
With the postal system overwhelmed with orders and causing delays, curbside pickup became the go-to for many last-minute holiday shoppers. In fact, 25 percent of orders were bought online and picked up in-store, a 40 percent increase over the previous shopping season. Postal service delays were the main reason for this — many times, expedited shipping couldn’t even promise that gifts would be delivered on time — but it’s also a great option because it offers shoppers a hybrid experience. They can shop online but still quickly browse the shop for any last-minute ideas or purchases when they come to pick up their order. It also offers a break from the lines that punctuated 2020. Many stores offered priority lines for individuals who were only there to pick up orders, saving them time and giving them control over their wait times.
Buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS) options is one of the top future retail solutions. They are easy for local, independent retailers to implement. Instead of creating a top-notch e-commerce site, BOPIS allows customers to shop through multiple channels, including social media, to find their offerings. They can place an order over the phone or through a direct message on social media platforms, paying for the item when they arrive to pick it up. This option is effective and cheap, which means that it’s likely here to stay. And that means that retailers will need to start implementing this option if they want to attract customers. Appointment scheduling apps can help make this process a breeze and have been increasingly used to control crowds of BOPIS shoppers.
Surprising no one, e-commerce sales increased 32.4 percent from 2019 to 2020, accounting for $794.50 billion in sales. This showcases that it’s now more important than ever for retailers to optimize their online shopping for consumers, including improving mobile shopping experiences. In November and December, key holiday shopping months, 40 percent of retail revenues came from smartphones. Although getting an e-commerce site up and running is important, stores that have poor mobile experiences will still have a hard time attracting consumers to these channels.
Mobile shopping capabilities are future retail solutions that offer a unique opportunity for retailers, as they can capture the attention of their consumers wherever they are. Many stores have started using scannable QR codes on marketing materials and their physical storefront to immediately draw customers to their online store. With an abundance of pandemic shopping options, this can help retailers stay top-of-mind for their consumers.
It appears that brick-and-mortar store locations are still important, especially for clothing and accessory retailers. As of January, 23 percent of consumers said that they had purchased clothing and stores in a physical store, up from 6 percent in December. With many high-profile clothing retailers going bankrupt over the last few years, this offers some hope for brick-and-mortar locations. But this doesn’t mean that they can get comfortable.
In order to appeal to the next generation of shoppers, brick-and-mortar stores will need to start implementing technology to improve the shopping experience. For busy shopping days, such as Black Friday, queue management technology can be extremely important for reducing wait times and crowds, as well as improving customer satisfaction. Data is also vital during this period of changing consumer demands. To ensure future retail success, stores will need to make sure that they are collecting customer data and customer satisfaction surveys to help improve and personalize experiences.
Retail of the Future
The future of retail isn’t near, it’s here. The pandemic sped up key shopping trends for retailers, forcing them to rapidly adapt to new demands and technology. And these demands aren’t expected to change as the pandemic ends. Retailers need to understand the changing environment and work to implement the best experience for their customers. Otherwise, they may not survive.