Say goodbye to the retail dinosaurs – Covid-19 will change retail for the good, says Mary Portas

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

Retail has suffered a huge blow as a result of the pandemic, and it’s a blow that will leave some retailers reeling for a number of years, but there is a silver lining that we would be foolish to ignore – Covid-19 will act as a catalyst for better retail! 

In an interview with The Guardian‘s Nosheen Iqbal, industry-renowed retail expert Mary Portas shared some of her thoughts on the impact Covid-19 has had on the retail sector, and why businesses and government branches need to embrace innovation right now.

“The days of stacking stuff high and selling it fast are completely and utterly over,” she said. “The brands that dominated did that for years and they failed to offer anything beyond mediocrity. Does anyone really miss BHS? Does anyone care about Dorothy Perkins?”

Rather blunt, but her points ring true. Over the last decade, the retail sector has been jumping through hoops to try and meet the changing demands of modern consumers who, unlike their predecessors, favour experiences over high-end products, who allow ethical elements to impact their buying decisions and vote with their feet, who favour innovation and experience over price alone.

And contrary to what some retail experts have predicted, the coronavirus pandemic has not put an end to retail – nor will it. In fact, for many retailers it has acted as a catalyst for change by pushing omni-channel initiatives and ideas that were years down the roadmap to take place in a matter of months. For instance, curbside click and collect was years away from seeing the exposure it has experienced now.

Here are some of the ways Covid-19 has changed the retail industry for good:

1) Stores will act as window displays rather than warehouses

Covid-19 brought about an increased reliance on online shopping, and now consumers are hooked. Going forward, retailers will no longer be expected to occupy huge store locations dedicated solely to stocking everything and anything they sell. In fact, they will take on more of a window display model, where customers can come and see new products in person and experience what the brand is all about, and many will go ahead and by these products online instead of then and there.

2) Experience will continue to dominate

In the last few years, there has been a huge focus on experience in the retail sector, with brands like Nike, Samsung, and Lululemon making huge strides to turn their stores into community hubs that provide customers with more than simply trying to sell their products.

And while Covid-19 temporarily put a stop to a lot of these initiatives, as the focus of stores became more about short, sharp transactions, in many ways the pandemic has only helped to strengthen the aspects of in-store shopping that customers missed while stores were closed. It wasn’t never-ending queues and bright red sale signs that they missed; but expert advice and service, and the opportunity to discover something new or life-changing.

As a result, the need for retailers to make the customer journey engaging, efficient and safe has never been greater – and many retailers are using appointment booking software and virtual queuing systems to power these experiences.  And we’re also seeing big brands incorporate everything from escape rooms and nail salons, to restaurants and street performers, into their retail offerings.

3) The Kindness Economy is taking off

Buzzwords like sustainability are so big right now that they’ve almost lost their meaning – but the demand for sustainable supply chains, ethical resources and social responsibility stems from a genuine requirement from modern consumers.

This surge in demand is something that Mary Portas has coined as The Kindness Economy, and it’s something that will not only benefit Millennial and GenZ consumers, but the retail world in general.

During the lockdown, many consumers started to revaluate the brands that they shop with and were far more willing to shop with new retailers that meet their requirements. They also took note of the brands that treated them poorly during the lockdown and who prioritised short-term sales over safety or experience.

4) Consumers will give local stores the love they deserve

With many working from home during the lockdown, local high street retailers have had the opportunity to build better relationships with consumers, and are reaping the rewards as a result.

Portas also pointed out that: “Globally, 77% of people now say they value decency in business as much as price and convenience. Deeper, meaningful connections with where you live will become far more important than a day trip to an out-of-town shopping centre or retail park.”

Interestingly, many experts have predicted this trend to continue in years to come, with brands like American Express and Google creating campaigns designed to urge customers to shop local and support small businesses.

For more information about how you can create engaging retail experiences during and after Covid-19 with the help of virtual queuing and appointment booking software, contact to set up a call or demo.


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