How Retailers are Navigating the ‘New Normal’

With stores now beginning to open in certain parts of the world and others fueled almost entirely by online sales, how are retailers navigating a new way of life?

Ben Roberts, Content Director

May 28, 2020

4 Min Read
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Retail has faced a unique dichotomy, with high streets all but abandoned, consumers are turning to ecommerce to buy essentials and luxury items have been redefined to include impulse, pastime and pleasure purchases.  

But, with some regions across the globe opening certain stores, adapting consumer journeys to fit social distancing standards and with new buying trends emerging each week, what exactly does this ‘new normal’ look like today? 

After opening 34 of their 111 stores, with more adopting curbside-pickup systems, Neela Montgomery, chief executive officer, Crate & Barrel shared the company's ongoing journey toward life after lockdown in a recent webinar with the National Retail Federation

“It’s interesting to how this whole crisis has evolved,” says Montgomery. “When we first learned of the virus, it was really about a supply-side issue with China. It was only in early March that we started to think this could become such a widespread issue. Now we’re a little bit more in that new normal. We have seen a number of different trends and we have been able to keep our distribution centers operating, and I’m very grateful to our associates for that. Effectively they’ve been dealing with peak ecommerce volumes for six weeks.” 

“From February, 50% of our sales were already through the ecommerce channels so we were evenly split between online and in-stores at that point,” adds Montgomery. “It’s interesting now, we’ve had stores open for about 10 days. [Customer] traffic is inevitably very much at rest especially in the limited opening hours which is about – 60% right now, but conversion has been very high. Any customer walking into your store is probably on a mission to buy something, they’re not just browsing. If you think about the trend of bricks-and-mortar retail over the years, it has been a trend of lower traffic and higher conversion and making every visit count. I think we’re moving into an era where that’s more exaggerated.” 

This new normal is an enhanced iteration of the retail evolution that has been underway for some years. A move toward targeted buying and curated purchase journeys, low footfall in-store and higher engagement online as well as an emphasis on consumer convenience. 

“Shoppers are looking for brands that can solve their needs, which today are both physical and emotional,” says Erik Rosenstrauch, founder, FUEL Partnerships. “The number of people who are now doing ‘clicks-to-bricks’ is rising. Walmart has picked up 40% growth in that area alone in sales, in one month. The Walmart online app is the most downloaded shopping app in the states. It's surpassed Amazon. It's about speed for retailers right now, it's about value and it's about convenience. I believe that for retailers to win, they must deliver on those three things.”  

The trends emerging from consumers are being mirrored by retailers, who are investing in click-and-collect, opening trial stores in certain regions and carefully plotting out supply chains to ensure buyer demand is looked-after in Q4 2020. But, this new era for retail could differ drastically from in-store to ecommerce. 

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Speaking with License Global, Bryan Flynn, founder, Super7 and Hybrid Design,  discussed today’s new normal from the point of view of a nostalgia-inspired toy and apparel licensee and ecommerce retail brand. 

“Mostly we are seeing people looking for ways to find some entertainment and normalcy in all of this, which has translated into a healthy online retail business for us,” says Flynn. “Of course, people are prioritizing their health and safety needs, and we hope they continue to do so. Beyond that, we are seeing consumers continue to make space in their lives for enjoyment of their hobbies. There are always real-life difficulties in the world, and it's nice to have a fun and healthy outlet.” 

Speaking to License Global in April, Pat Wood, founder, online retailer TruffleShuffle, gave us his view of the post-pandemic buyer landscape in the U.K. as ecommerce continues to dominate the country’s consumer culture. 

“You’re not going to open shop and have the footfall you had pre-Coronavirus,” says Pat Wood. "Most consumers will still be very cautious and limit their visits to stores. Realistically, over the coming years, there will be a huge shift online, and I would be very, very surprised if most high street retailers didn’t use this as an opportunity to reduce their brick-and-mortar presence.” 

Another major online retailer in the U.K. is, who have been facing new seasonal demands and adapting their workflow to nurture the consumer journey online as they prepare for another new normal to land in Q4 2020. 

“My advice to companies during this time is to make sure that you consider your supply chain in any plans that you make," says Karen Hewitt, co-founder, "It will take working as partners to have the biggest long-term gains in terms of sustainability for all businesses. Q4 is going to be more important than ever in 2020, so plan with positivity.” 

So, with so much to consider from ecommerce to brick-and-mortar, the new normal (today) means curating existing demand, planning for the future, communicating with buyers regularly and building the future for your brand to stay front of mind for consumers. What normal looks like tomorrow is, quite simply, anyone’s guess; however, the efforts of the global retail community are ensuring a constantly changing solution to the consumer needs that will emerge once lockdowns lift and life returns to the ‘next normal’. 

Main Image: Benedikt Geyer / Body image: Wynand van Poortvliet

About the Author(s)

Ben Roberts

Content Director, License Global

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