The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way Americans shop. It also affected the way retail businesses reach customers and position their businesses for growth and prosperity. Looking forward, some of these changes are likely to stick around. Here are the trends small businesses in the retail industry can likely count on for the foreseeable future.
Online shopping was certainly not a new concept when the pandemic hit, but nationwide lockdowns forced more consumers to shop online, and accelerated the rate at which business owners opened e-commerce sites. The shift to more digital business is likely here to stay, even as the world economy begins to recover. A recent study conducted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the NetComm Suisse e-Commerce Association found that online sales have increased across the majority of product categories. This suggests that consumers are increasingly content to shop online, and retail companies with dedicated e-commerce presences will be able to thrive in a post-pandemic era.
The Effect of e-Commerce on Brick-And-Mortar Stores
Retail strategist and experiential designer, Melissa Gonzalez, believes brands and retailers will be taking a close look at the role of physical stores.
“Capital allocation will have a tiered process where flagship destinations will exist in locales where there is evidence that a physical presence is justified or critical 12 months a year,” Gonzalez said. “Flagship locations will be complemented with smaller-format, specialty locations anchored around a specific purpose or localized effort. Partnering with department stores will also continue to be reimagined as they restructure and reposition as collaborative marketplaces, and there will be a deeper dedication to pop-in-shop retail.”
The pandemic ushered in new safety requirements, changing regulations, and unpredictable staff availability. These changes are leading companies to think about tech-driven solutions that can support growing requirements and evolve with their business. Some of these tools include mobile payments, online shopping, and mobile scheduling. While the pandemic demanded the urgency of customer-driven solutions, like convenience and touchless transactions, they are proving to increase efficiencies as well as customer and employee experiences, and they are likely here to stay.
Personal Shopping Services
The role of a personal shopper, where a store employee shops for a customer, isn’t a new concept, but more retailers implemented this service to compensate for the loss of foot traffic during pandemic lockdowns. While this method is being embraced across the board, personalized experiences are especially well-suited to local and small retailers, who have an opportunity to lead the industry in this area.
A number of factors go into determining an item’s price, but more retailers are depending on automated technology to establish proper pricing. Expect to see more and more automation solutions implemented for small businesses, such as online pricing automation and inventory management systems.
Social Media’s Role
The pandemic accelerated the need for retailers to reach consumers through online and mobile-friendly methods. Social media is a major stimulator of online sales, and consumers want to interact with brands through these platforms. Experts even suggest that hashtags and memes could be just as effective as traditional advertising avenues. Small businesses should think about creative social programming to boost online shopping through avenues like shoppable TikTok and Instagram. This is especially important to reach and maintain younger consumers.