It is inevitable that some consumers shopping habits will have permanently changed during lockdown. The acceleration of digital channel adoption has seen 3-5 years worth of progress in as many months. Consumers that would never have used online shopping in past have had to do so through necessity and some will never return to bricks and mortar.
However, the reality is that the majority of consumers will return. At some point. As we learn from China and European market re-openings, we should expect even greater polarisation in shopping behaviour. Younger, less susceptible consumers are most likely to resume normal shopping behaviour ahead of the older generation. Poorer consumers will resume pre-Covid purchasing patterns faster as the more of their spending is non-discretionary. It is likely that wealthier shoppers will cut back on discretionary spend for some time, preferring to save a little money for the next rainy day.
All this has big implications for retailers and reinforces the need for relevance - a good reason to exist that resonates with consumers. Non-essential retailers were already feeling the squeeze. This 'muddle in the middle' impacts mid-market apparel in particular but is applicable to all non differentiated retail propositions in all categories. The Covid crisis has accelerated the demise or restructuring of many of these struggling brands, with more to come once furlough support unwinds. It is unlikely that those retailers that exist as a distribution channel for other people's product will be able to compete with the convenience of online shopping. There must be more - unique product, an exceptional experience, seamless convenience, personalised communication. To capture the footfall or eyeballs in the new normal it will be essential to excel at all these facets.
It is time for accelerated transformation across the retail sector, both in terms of proposition development and operational capability. Winners will avoid the muddle in the middle, those that are slow to adapt or do not take bold enough steps risk becoming yet another unfortunate statistic.