Commentary

For Retail, Expect Reboot, Not Return To Usual

As we edge closer to a full reopening across the U.S., retail sits at the edge of a second pandemic-fueled transformation. With the future of consumer experiences at stake, retailers must reexamine the prevailing approaches that have defined omnichannel retail for the past decade.

Here are four key areas that will change the retail landscape in the coming months:

#1. The end of omnichannel as we know it. COVID-19 flipped the balance of power between online and physical retail after the greatest and most accelerated digital transformation in history. The new default of digital discovery and purchase, as well as expectations around delivery, and the trend toward buy online, pickup in-store and curbside, are here to stay.

Despite this, it's not time to abandon physical locations, since 91% of shoppers say they miss shopping in stores, according to a McKinsey report. Moving forward, retailers will need to offer specialized, not seamless experiences, creating clear differentiation, and use cases, for each point in their customer experience and sales cycle.

#2. Permanent shifts in the way we shop. Accessibility and availability have taken precedence during the pandemic, with McKinsey reporting that 73% of U.S. consumers have changed stores, brands, or the way they shop. Changing these new habits will prove difficult, as what started as convenience has now become preference.

The long-lasting impact of changes to daily routines means that many of these shifts in how and where people buy will become permanent. For destination retail, the coming months will be a critical period to regain customers and establish the value of returning to shop. 

#3. The second coming of experiential. Post-pandemic, we’ll see the return of browsing as a pastime after a year of home shopping has reminded people of all the things they loved about the in-store shopping experience. Digital experiences offer a huge opportunity during this period, as stores begin pursuing new avenues for driving visits.

Whether extending online buying experiences, offering a product demo, or a one-of-a-kind brand experience, experiential offers an opportunity for retailers to become a destination—attracting shoppers and offering them a unique experience that enhance their perceptions of a brand.

#4. The end game: A green Christmas. All these factors point to the 2021 holiday season being one of the biggest for brick-and-mortar retail in years. Where 2020 was the year of the digital Christmas, 2021 will be the return of in-store shopping, as last year’s socially distanced holiday season left most wanting.

Retailers can expect to see a huge appetite for the pageantry of the season this year, with retail and in-store shopping regaining their esteemed role in the quintessential holiday experience. This presents a major opportunity for brands and stores to create engagement and ensure they’re at the center of the holiday shopping experience.

Time for a reboot, not a reset.

As we emerge from lockdowns, the opportunity and challenge for retail is to look forward, not back. The aim will be to create the store of the future today—one built around a differentiated experience for customers that leverages the best of physical and digital environments.

How businesses adapt or address these changes will not only have an impact on their individual prospects, but how we think about the roles of digital and physical experiences in the retail ecosystem for years to come.

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