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  • David MacNeil

Retail & Consumerism: The Aftermath of a World-Altering Event

David MacNeil, Marketing Officer

We are now over a month  into  what can only be described as a completely unfamiliar  lifestyle  here in North America. While the world has seemingly been put on hold, there is one industry that has remained consistent among all of this turmoil – retail.

While the consumer environment is now radically different, consumers still require certain essential services provided by supermarkets and chain stores. Food, clothes, sanitary products, and other essential items are continuing to force customers through the doors during tough times.

The consumer experience has changed dramatically in the wake of this global crisis, and retailers have had to adapt swiftly in order to keep things running and satisfy erratic consumer demand. For the most part, these retailers have done a good job adjusting to this new reality and have taken the necessary health and safety precautions required to keep everyone healthy. The question to address now is what impact will the aftermath of this global pandemic have on the retail industry around the world?

We can expect business to be slow at first, as consumers are hesitant to resume their old shopping habits right away. Many people will still be stocked up on products from their isolation periods allowing them to hold out a few more days, or even weeks before needing to brave the outside world again. However soon enough, consumers will be itching to get back to their regular routines and social environments, and as more businesses begin to resume operations an increase in active consumers will follow.

To this point, we are now witnessing an occurrence taking place in China called “revenge spending”, where consumers are starting to return to stores to spend on luxury goods now that many isolation restrictions are being lifted. China has been battling this virus longer than any other country and are now looking to cautiously return to a more regular way of life.

People have become more conscious of health, hygiene, and safety as it relates to shopping, and we can expect that this will persist long after the COVID-19 virus is behind us. Customers will expect stores to do everything that they can in order to maintain a healthy environment and will be scrutinized on these details more than they have in the past. This will be especially relevant during the first months after self-isolation periods are lifted as consumers cautiously attempt to return to their pre COVID-19 lifestyle.

Retailers will need to be proactive in order to ensure that consumers feel safe, otherwise they risk extreme criticism and the loss of business. We can expect to see safety practices that are currently being used during the crisis carry into the future, such as the continued installation of plexiglass at cash registers, dedicated shopping hours for seniors, and consistent scrubbing down of shopping carts after each use.

The popularity of online shopping will only continue to grow after the pandemic is over. The convenience alone is enough to entice people to shop online, but now that the world has gone through a very serious health crisis, it is likely that consumers will begin to see even more value in shopping from the comfort of their own homes. For example, the process of ordering groceries online has picked up over the last number of years – a trend that will likely continue to rise in popularity as this pandemic goes on, and well after it is over.

Personally, I have contributed to this trend over the course of the last month, having placed multiple online grocery orders in order to avoid entering a store and using the services of Amazon to purchase other essential items. This offers people like me a greater sense of safety, often without ever having to walk out of my front door.

People will be craving social situations after isolating for such a long time. We can expect that, after a reasonable period of time, consumers will be looking to get back out into the world. This may impact the restaurant industry most of all, as they not only offer social environments, but also convenience.

When the dust settles and this crisis is behind us, retailers must act consistently in order to ensure that customers are safe and will need to understand the high standards of safety and cleanliness that the public will grow to expect. Any retailer that neglects these important details could find themselves falling out of favour. There is no doubt that this virus will be an event that changes the world of consumerism forever.

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