How COVID-19 has shown how important retail really is

To say it has been a trying few months for retail is probably the understatement of the century. No-one paying even passing attention could argue that the past few months haven’t been some of the most stressful and confusing retailers have ever faced. Most have thankfully re-opened and are now successfully operating in a socially distanced world but there is still a long road to go. Much support will be needed from central government, local councils and consumers over the coming months.

BUT…..there have been rays of light for retailers

One of the most striking things from the staggered re-openings of retailers has been consumers’ reaction. The anticipation and excitement for shops to re-open and then the pure joy when they did were remarkable. The fanfare of Penney’s re-opening was huge and notably driven by the brand’s loyal customers rather than any marketing from the retailer itself, with queues for most of its stores beginning in the early hours and stretching through neighbouring streets.

While Penneys made national headlines, a walk down Dublin’s Henry Street (close to Excel HQ) saw similar queues for retailers of all kinds in the days and weeks since re-opening.

Need and want

While online shopping proved a lifeline for those who were cocooning and a welcome distraction for those simply bored at home, there are customer needs and goals that online shopping can never meet as successfully as bricks and mortar stores. While online shopping soared during lockdown, so did buyer’s remorse and returns. There are many purchases customers far prefer making in-person from cosmetics to a new pair of jeans to investing in an expensive piece of tech. E-commerce sites constantly revise and refine how they present products but there’s little that can replicate seeing, feeling and experience a product in real life before you buy.

The shopping experience

There are also purchases where the experience of buying is almost as important as the actual item itself, such as a luxury handbag or a brand’s latest ‘must-have’ release. Customers value the expertise and input of experienced sales consultants and brand experts when making an important purchase. On a much more fundamental level what has become clear is, people like shopping. Lockdown proved more than anything that we are social creatures and missed the chance to get out and engage with other humans. With more and more people choosing to holiday at home this year, that practise can only continue.

E-commerce and online shopping aren’t going anywhere, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer they won’t not going to be the trigger of the ‘retail apocalypse’ that many predicted. Traditional retailing shouldn’t be trying to compete with online, but instead tapping into what makes it special. This isn’t the time for the retail industry to try to simply ride out the storm, instead redouble efforts into ensuring well-trained, knowledgable salespeople combined friendly, genuine customer service and a personalised, engaging customer experience should be the focus.