“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence—it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” —Peter Drucker
To say that the COVID-19 pandemic created a period of turbulence in the world of brick-and-mortar retail is to trivialize the word “understatement.” There is no question that the restrictions on what has been considered typical daily routines, since March 11, 2020, have disrupted those routines into new habits. And for many traditional retailers who have relied on in-store customer sales, the impact has been devastating. Despite whatever assistance that may have come from PPP funds, rent deferrals and/or credits, a staggering percentage of retailers have and will continue close their doors for good.
According to healthline.com, “it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.”
You will note that I used the very specific date of last March 11th, which was exactly 324 days from the date this blog was originally posted. Why March 11, 2020? Simply put, I love to attend Washington Nationals baseball games, and especially Spring Training games in Florida, and that was the day my little world was disrupted – my Florida baseball routine was shut down, and I started wearing a mask!
So, think about it, if I’d happen to be a super disciplined 18-day habit changer, I could have changed the same routine 18 times over (324 divided by 18 = 18)! But let’s say I’m just an average guy. Even at the rate of 66 days, I would have changed my habits nearly 5 times over (324 divided by 66 = 4.9).
As an old friend of mine often asked, “Have I digressed?”
Not really. Think about how your personal routines (aka “habits”) have had to adapt to the COVID environment:
- Doing a lot of work from home.
- Having become acquainted with how to attend virtual meetings – Zoom, Teams, Skype … or the Amazon version called Chime!
- Driving for any reason is very limited.
- For those of you with school age kids, how’s that 24/7 experience been going for you?
- And then there is the supercharged online shopping experience.
Yes, routines, during the pandemic, have been altered and much of them for good.
I suggest that the traditional shopping experience as Americans have known it for two and one-half centuries, has been altered in a very permanent way.
Frankly, it started well before the pandemic even entered anyone’s thoughts – first, it was ebay, then Amazon and from there a steady escalation of online retail sales, which very likely has been a significant influencer on the death of the shopping mall.
So, the changing face of bricks-and-mortar retail has been evolving for years, but it was the turbulence of the pandemic that resulted in a sudden disruption of normal shopping habits that forced the evolution to accelerate at Warp Speed.
It is said that historically medicine has experienced its most significant advances during times of war and crisis, as we have seen in the development of the COVID vaccines. But in this case, the retail shopping experience was forced to move quickly to virtuality.
When change happens fast, many national, regional, and local retailers are caught flat-footed and struggle to adapt quickly, but others thrive on their new altered world and find tremendous opportunities.
Here are some of the trends that seem to be taking shape in the new physical retail environment:
- Online browsing leans strongly toward branded merchandise. In this way, the shopper doesn’t care which store sells it.
- Many small businesses are learning that making the shift to capture online sales is less expensive than once thought. According to Kiplinger companies like “Shopify offers small retailers the software and tools to run an online store for under $100 per month.”
- Several retailers are partnering with major online retailers to handle returns – Kohl’s takes in Amazon products. The end result is new customer traffic in the store.
- There is a surge in retailers adopting in-store mobile apps for ease of finding merchandise and skipping the checkout time. And then there is the contactless credit card purchase.
- Kiplinger also notes the trend toward focusing on customized products that require personal assistance – fitted apparel, custom bicycles – “collaboration and customization.”
- Relationship building not only with the brand, but with a skilled, very knowledgeable and personable sales representative, who will bring a connection to the physical plant, whether it be in the store, online or wherever.
- Investments in automated check-out and back end technology has allowed some retailers to afford to pay more for those skilled sales representatives.
- Many retailers are remaking their shops to create an experiential environment that attempts to “sweep customers off their feet” and want to return over and over again – something as simple as a coffee bar may do it.
- The effort to create a positive in-store experience is causing retailers to find new ways to capture personal information (often annoying) and earning customer loyalty through performance, a high level of service and follow up – a “direct-to-customer strategy” that strives to build relationships.
- A recent article in Vogue stated “the store and your sales associate remain the heart of the relationship.”
Will bricks-and-mortar retail establishments survive the significant trends and changes to the shopping experience that have been accelerated over the last 324 days?
The answer is unequivocally, yes, but only with retailers placing an emphasis on a strong infusion creating their own kind of socialization with their customers.
I end this post as it began with a poignant quote or two about forward thinking:
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” —Niccolo Machiavelli
“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” —John F. Kennedy
Rocky Mackintosh, President of MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland, has been an active member of the Frederick community for over four decades. He has served as chairman of the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital and as a member of the Frederick County Charter Board from 2010 to 2012. He currently serves as chairman of the board of Frederick Mutual Insurance Company. Established in 1843, it is one of the longest enduring businesses in Frederick County.