The pandemic has changed many things about our day-to-day lives. From mask-wearing and social distancing to staying at home, there has been a lot to adjust to. One of the areas of our lives it has profoundly affected is the way that we shop. To minimize the spread of the virus, many clothing brands have had to close down their physical stores and virtualize their operations.
Because of pandemic-related financial struggles, many consumers haven’t even been thinking of buying clothes, focusing their limited funds on essential items such as food and household cleaners. These habits are hurting major shopping centers such as Macy’s and fast fashion brands such as H&M, both of which have already been struggling with sales before the pandemic struck. Will brick-and-mortar shopping centers survive the domination of e-commerce? How will the remaining physical stores adapt to stay alive?
Transition to online platforms
To prevent the spread of the virus, many industries – not just retail – have had to digitize their operations, minimizing or shutting down their on-site operations completely. Experts say that the pandemic sped up the shift to online shopping by as much as five years. Big shopping centers such as Macy’s and fast fashion giants such as H&M are struggling to survive.
It also doesn’t help that today’s consumers are also more informed about the practices of large corporations and how they’re often detrimental to the environment and the company’s workers. Two major contributors to the fast fashion industry’s decline are unethical supply chains and exploited workers. Turned off by these unethical practices, consumers are more supportive of small businesses, which tend to operate almost exclusively online and have business practices that are more socially and environmentally aware.
It’s not just the change in the platform that retailers have to adapt to. They also have to work towards being more ethical in their business practices. This includes the environment they provide their workers with, how their products are sourced, and the impact their business has on the environment. If they fail to meet these demands, their famed entry doors or exterior doors may shut down for good.
Less window shopping
Because of the need to practice social distancing, consumers will be discouraged from browsing without intent. We will need to go into a shop knowing what we want so we’ll spend less time inside of it. The surviving physical stores will likely adjust to this by making their stores smaller to discourage customers from lingering inside. And if these stores are earning less, they’ll have to lessen their square footage anyway. It’s also possible that physical stores will have partitions and outdoor spaces to lower the risk of infection.
Essential items and thriftier consumers
The pandemic has highlighted the need for essential things – be it workers or goods. Many people have been furloughed because of the pandemic, so they’re being more cautious with their spending. Non-essential goods such as cosmetics have been sidelined for essentials such as food and household cleaners.
During this time, big-box retailers such as Target, Lowe’s, and Walmart have seen their sales skyrocket. The executives of these establishments chalk it up to the stores’ diverse selection of commodities. During the first few weeks of the lockdown, consumers cleaned out aisles of household cleaners and kitchen products. Then, as the pandemic stretched on, they came back for hair dye, board games, and game consoles.
Just as the pandemic has sped up e-commerce, it has also sped up developments in automation. To minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus, many industries have turned to automating routine tasks. For instance, Amazon warehouses have employed robots to sort, pack, and ship orders. There’s a robot in Japan that can detect if customers aren’t wearing face masks. Before the pandemic, there were already some robots working as cashiers.
While robots have been doing wonders for these industries, they’re also putting human workers out of jobs. For human workers to adapt to changing demands in their workplaces, governments and institutions must invest in retraining them for the new skills they must acquire.
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing how we construct and interact with both physical public spaces and online platforms. The convenience of big-box retailers and the more ethical practices of small businesses are part of the reason why fast fashion brands and specialty stores of non-essential products are suffering. To survive this evolution of shopping habits and platforms, retailers must also be even more attentive and responsive to consumer habits and demands.