How the pandemic changed retail
The Future. The pandemic didn’t kill retail the way some predicted it would, but changes in the retail sector have outlasted the pandemic and may be here to stay. Rather than destroying in-person shopping, e-commerce has formed a surprisingly symbiotic relationship with brick-and-mortar stores. We may not be witnessing the end of retail so much as the beginning of a new kind of retail.
The future is now
In addition to serving new functions for shoppers and suppliers, brick-and-mortar outlets have grown more efficient and automated, resembling e-commerce to a greater degree.
- Many physical stores are becoming storehouses for online retailers, who tap the stores’ inventories to avoid marking items as out of stock on their platforms.
- Curbside pickup and buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) have grown more popular since the pandemic hit. Now, 33% of adults under 50 say they plan to keep using this method even though COVID is no longer as much of an issue.
- In-person stores are also now being used more for returning goods purchased online since it’s so much harder for retailers to handle this online than in a brick-and-mortar location.
- Big-box retailers are doing even better than they were during the pandemic, with companies like Burlington, T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, and Barnes & Noble opening more stores than they were three years ago.
The (in)human element
The reality of the future of retail looks better than our gloomiest predictions for it. But one trend is undeniable: stores are trading customer service and human interaction for the cold efficiency of fulfillment centers. Various retail outlets are adopting contactless checkout and self-checkout methods, which enables them to save money by hiring fewer employees and for fewer hours.
Customers prefer this, too, citing less time spent waiting in line and the ease of self-checkout (read: avoiding human interaction). Is it a dystopia if you asked for it?