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What Will Stores Look Like Post-Pandemic?

This week everyone will be talking about the future of retail in a post-pandemic world, the state of the "drop" model and the proliferation of spring sales. Get your BoF Professional Cheat Sheet.
Inside Walmart | Source: Getty
By
  • Brian Baskin
BoF PROFESSIONAL

THE CHEAT SHEET

The Store of the Future

Face masks and plexiglass barriers have become the norm in shops that remain open during the Covid-19 pandemic | Source: Getty Images

  • Retailers that remain open are instituting safety measures to protect the health of employees and shoppers
  • Curbside pickup and contactless payment are also being more widely deployed to reduce the spread of Covid-19
  • Warehouses are at a new flashpoint, with activists and consumers criticising brands for risking employees' health to fulfill online orders
The coronavirus pandemic is likely months away from burning out, but we are already starting to see the contours of what the post-crisis shopping experience will look like. Walmart and some supermarket chains are installing plexiglass barriers to protect checkout employees, and taking workers’ temperature before they enter stores. It's difficult — though not impossible — to imagine such measures being implemented at a Louis Vuitton boutique, but even brands built around the personal touch of the in-store experience will need to learn to love social distancing.
Other changes seem inevitable as well. The UK has raised the minimum spending requirements for contactless payments; in the US, the practice of signing for credit card purchases is surely on borrowed time. Independent boutiques are learning to love buy online, pick up in store (or outside the store, for maximum social distancing). Warehouse employees have asserted their rights in new ways, forcing Amazon to provide health protections.

The Bottom Line: All of these measures should help shoppers and employees feel more comfortable entering stores and malls when they emerge from their homes in a few weeks or months. That's key to reviving brick-and-mortar retail, especially as flare-ups of Covid-19 are likely even after the pandemic has subsided.

The Sneakers Keep Dropping

A collaboration between Stussy and Nike dropped in late March even as the Covid-19 pandemic forced both brands to close most stores | Source: Instagram/@stussy

  • Nike, Supreme and other brands continue to release limited-edition capsule collections even as stores remain closed
  • Streetwear drops target young, wealthy consumers, who are still spending despite the pandemic
  • The resale market remains robust, providing another source of demand for limited drops
It takes more than a pandemic to stop streetwear drops. For streetwear brands, whose audience views frantically hitting refresh on a website as interchangeable with lining up outside a store, nationwide lockdowns haven’t changed business as much as you’d think. Drops, with their small, limited runs, are well-suited to today's dour retail climate, where brands are worried about the piles of unsold merchandise in their shuttered stores. And though apparel sales have plunged overall, young people continue to spend

So while Nike may have closed stores and delayed its much-hyped Dior collaboration, it's still releasing plenty of other shoes on Nike.com and its SNKRS app. It's not just Nike, either; New Balance released its Casablancas collaboration last week, and Adidas' left-field capsule with actor Jonah Hill has a rumoured overseas release on April 10. Brands' confidence in ploughing ahead in the current environment is no doubt bolstered by the resale market, which has seen strong traffic throughout the crisis. 

The Bottom Line: If limited releases continue to sell well during the worst of the pandemic, expect the wider fashion world to take notice. Brands that have remained loyal to seasonal schedules may suddenly discover the merits of the drop. 

Everything is 40 50 60 70 80 Percent Off

A deserted mall in a county north of San Francisco, California | Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Brands and retailers avoided deep discounts in the early days after closing stores, but many have begun offering site-wide sales of 25 percent to 40 percent or more
  • Closed stores and rising unemployment will put a damper on the normally strong Passover/Easter shopping period
  • North American apparel retail foot traffic plunged 87 percent in the last week of March, and Google searches for handbags fell 45 percent, according to Cowen
Discounting in a down market is toxic, with after-effects that can linger for years. Many brands and retailers are still locked into a cycle of year-round sales introduced during the financial crisis a decade ago. So it’s disturbing to see how many are offering deep discounts. Multi-brand retailers that were already struggling before the pandemic are understandably desperate to maintain cash flow with stores closed and consumers scared to spend. But the strategy is unlikely to work. Retailers selling the same stuff as everyone else won’t find it any easier to draw customers by offering cookie-cutter discounts as well.
Rather than discounting, some stores are getting creative. Capitol, a boutique in Charlotte, N.C., has sold dozens of Easter baskets filled with Gucci belts, Irene Neuwirth jewellery and Susanne Kaufmann skin-care products. 
BoF will have plenty more to say on discounting this week. Keep an eye out for the Daily Digest.
The Bottom Line: Easter baskets won't save wholesale retail, but, as was the case before the pandemic, thinking outside the box just might. 

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