There is no doubt that back in 2019, the future of retail was promising. Major fashion-related events in Europe and North America, acquisitions and expansions were seen happening worldwide. Little did we know that this would to cease due to the pandemic which has put to an end the usual way of doing business for many retailers. With soaring numbers of COVID-19 infections and subsequent closures and lockdowns around the globe, the life of a retailer has changed dramatically.
It is in our line of expertise to observe and analyze the challenges and opportunities that arose in retail industry, which in fact reflects the magnitude of changes in consumer behaviour around the globe. Although the luxury segment of the market has shown some survivability (and even moderate growth), the vast majority of retailers have experienced significant downturns due to factors such as lack of cash flow, lockdowns, and reduced consumer spending.
Although the nature of these changes could be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also a logical continuation of a phenomena that was already experiencing growth beforehand-persistent growth of retail businesses going online.
Below is the list of trends that are shaping the retail industry today:
Surge to e-commerce
It is not a surprise that the shift towards e-commerce has grown exponentially since 2019. Moreover, according to Statista, by 2025 the e-commerce segment of retail will grow to $563B in the United States. In reality however, given the global lockdowns, consumers have spent $861.12B with U.S. retailers in 2020 alone, which represents a staggering 44% growth from 2019.
The surge towards e-commerce is apparent among all retail sectors - apparel, jewellery, home appliances, and even construction materials. It is also important to note that a large volume of smaller retailers shifted towards e-commerce, hosting their stores with platforms such as Shopify, Wordpress, and others. A prime example of strong demand towards e-commerce platforms could be demonstrated by strong growth of Shopify stock, that demonstrated strong growth from $500CAD in April 2020 to $1800 in February of 2021.
“We saw explosive growth in e-commerce in North America as the pandemic took hold, and I suspect we’ll continue to see online shopping being an important part of the consumer experience. It takes consumers 30 to 60 days to form permanent habits and online shopping for some will be one of them. Even my own mother is shopping online for groceries for the first time at 70 years old,” said Craig Patterson, Editor-in-Chief of online publication Retail Insider that is based in Canada.
Temporary stores and smaller showrooms
Our research also discovered that many retailers shift from permanent locations to increased use of pop-up concepts, since it allows a greater sense of flexibility, without being locked in a long-term lease agreement for a fixed space. With the increase of commercial space availability, landlords are more inclined to let you use a commercial space for a pop-up store to recover at least a portion of costs that pertain to owing the space.
Another growing trend is downsizing in retail. A large number of retailers are abandoning multi-location model and downsizing to a smaller number of physical stores and smaller showrooms. Eliminating and shedding the unnecessary overhead is crucial in surviving these turbulent times, where stores are forced to closed on a routine basis. Smaller showrooms allow for a more controlled environment to be created, with the necessary COVID-19 protection put in place. By-appointment-only model is also thriving, since it eliminates unnecessary overhead, and allows for all required precautions and disinfection to take place before each client’s visit.
Retail Insider’s Craig Patterson said, “Pop-up retail was a trend prior to the pandemic and I’m now seeing many retailers looking at temporary leases as part of a growth strategy. Some will be very short-term while others may be a bit longer. We are seeing some landlords offering one-year terms with percentage rent deals to entice retailers to take a risk and open a store. I predict 2021 will be “the year of the pop-up” in North America”.
“We are also seeing increasing leasing activity for smaller spaces while larger spaces languish on the market. This small space trend may continue for several years as some brands look to keep costs under control amid uncertainty”.
Curb-side pick-up experience
Due to the lockdown restrictions in many countries, retailers are facing the harsh reality of requesting clients to resort to curb-side pick-up as means of delivering the products. In many instances, this means that clients and employees have to deal with bad weather, traffic, and other obstacles when handing over the purchases. Some retailers resort to creating some vestibules, whereas others install temporary canopies to battle the precipitation.
Moreover, creative retailers employ digital and traditional signage to boost brand loyalty and the overall experience of the curb-side pick-up. We also see some retailers employ companies like Uber or Lyft to allow same-day delivery to the client. There is no doubt that this trend and the number of players in this industry will continue to grow, since demand is only growing.
Curbside pick-up wasn’t overly common for retailers in North America prior to the pandemic,” said Craig Patterson. “Out of necessity, many retailers quickly pivoted and launched curbside pickup out of necessity. It’s clear that the pandemic is accelerating existing trends while also creating a situation where companies are forced to innovate”.
Innovative technologies to create visual content
Exponential growth of e-commerce businesses placed a significant burden on content creators to shoot the products quickly, efficiently, and extremely cost-effectively, given the shrinking cash-flows in retail industry. This factor propelled tech companies and start-ups to focus on innovative technologies and developing new ways to create content. One of such companies is StylePhotos.ca, a unique tech start-up based out of Concord, Ontario, that allows customers of all sizes to have their products photographed in a timely and cost-effective manner.
One of the most pressing issues in the industry is lack of professional studios who can process a large volume of content quickly and consistently - which is why many enterprise level retailers resort to own in-house studios to deal with that task. The reality of today however is that such in-house studios become inefficient and costly, which allows companies like Stylephotos to position itself as the leader in high volume, and high quality content creation.
We see various retailers worldwide shift towards the “in-store” retail experience done through the online means of e-commerce. High quality photography is one aspect of it, with most leading retailers employing videos, 3D photos, and AR application in product listings. Having a high quality video demonstration of a product will decrease possibilities of returns, and answer questions related to product’s fit and true colour.
Craig Patterson said, “having a strong e-commerce site is more important than ever, and having accurate and compelling photography and other visuals is key. StylePhotos is considered to be an industry leader in terms of photo quality as well as cost for product which is less than most competitors and arguably a better product overall.”