The Expert Take: What's The Biggest Change Post-Pandemic?

When it comes to figuring out what the future might look like, nothing beats getting some of the smartest people you know together in one room. And while we’re not able to physically do that these days, we’ve got the next best thing – some of retail’s leading experts in areas from supply chain to creative process. They’re here to answer the question, “What’s the biggest change that happens to retail and the consumer post-pandemic?”

Expert tip: Want to learn more about these experts and their work? Click the company name for more information!

Chris Walton, CEO, Omnitalk/Third Haus

“Expect coronavirus to have an impact on retail in one major way — consumers and, more importantly, all retailers’ mindsets – will shift to be digital first, which is actually quite a big thing to say. Many retailers were not at this place mentally before the outbreak, But, now, living in a world where one doesn’t know if and/or when a vaccine or a viable treatment option will exist means that retailers need to start asking themselves one question, “What if a store is never a store again?” and work backwards.

Taking this mindset means investing in the digital face of one’s brands, in the flexibility of one’s supply chain, the fluidity of one’s labor modeling and staffing, and making one’s overall retail experience as touch-free and hassle-free as possible.”

Retailers need to start asking themselves one question, “What if a store is never a store again?” and work backwards.

Paco Underhill, CEO, Envirosell

“Better synergy between the physical and online world is long overdue. BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up In Store) or some version of that will explode. There will be a rethinking of unused space – not just store space but what about parking lots? How can they be used as “wait zones” for order pickups? And don’t forget about the annoying parts of digital delivery – there’s 30% of American households who can’t accept a delivery package at home. Delivery lockers will likely become much more prevalent. These are the “analog” parts of digital that deserve closer attention.

I’ve often said that too many decisions in retail are being made far away from the front door. Specifically, management makes decisions on how, when, and where the customer is served, even though they spend little time interacting with them. You see this manifesting itself during this crisis.

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Overnight, the pandemic brought new stress to the workplace for grocery, convenience, mass and pharmacy associates. We wanted to understand how employers could best support their teams in-store, so Envirosell conducted a web survey with 1000 essential workers in order to help decision makers monitor and respond to the rapidly evolving retail landscape. We found that employees felt heightened and acute levels of anxiety and vulnerability and one-third didn’t approve of how their company handled the pandemic. One thing is for sure, we’ve never needed these “essential workers” more but do our actions in management reflect that?”

Edward Hertzman, Founder and President, Sourcing Journal

“It’s been said before, but it bears repeating – this crisis will accelerate all the changes in this industry that needed to happen. Think about how Toyota, post WW2, and how they innovated to arrive at “just-in-time” manufacturing. It was a process that meant to minimize waste – of time, money, and components – that couldn’t be afforded. What’s more, it meant they were able to meet customer demand exactly.

If you look today to where the fashion industry is, we have super long lead times, and we’re trying to predict six months to a year in advance what people are going to want. Post-COVID, brands will likely not have the working capital to tie up in inventory that far in advance, nor will they want to take on the full responsibility of that aging product.

So how do we change this? Agility and quick decision making will be key. You’ll see brands and retailers making smaller orders. And to do this successfully, they’ll need to change their relationship with their vendors so that both risk and reward are shared.

Agility and quick decision making will be key.

While everyone’s talked about speed to market and inventory reductions in the past, looking ahead, it’s not going to be a “nice to have,” it’s going to be the only way forward.”

Carlos Casado, VP of Growth, Nextail

“The COVID-19 crisis has made one thing very clear: Data is not only important in merchandising, it’s fundamental. Once the crisis begins to wane, there will be a surge in investments that allow brands and retailers to transform their merchandising processes through automated, data-based decisions. Ultimately, digitally transforming fashion retail in this way is a means to the ultimate end – a better customer experience.

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COVID-19 will leave behind a starkly different fashion industry, especially in terms of consumer behavior and demand. Among other changes, customers will be more purpose-driven in their consumption, affecting assortment and price points. They’ll also need more flexible customer journeys, accelerating the need for true omnichannel capabilities.

Customers will be more purpose-driven in their consumption, affecting assortment and price points.

To adapt to these changes, retailers will need a complete, bottom-up vision of inventory and demand, which will only be possible through data. That’s why they’ll move fast to shift from the top-down decisions and simplifications that used to work in the past, to agile, data-driven merchandising.”

Michelle Rotbart, Creative Director, Apex Creative

“It’s a bit difficult to predict what will happen post-pandemic since the news changes every day. Furthermore, consumers aren’t a monolith—people have different lives, priorities, and spending power. Shoppers will be more selective about their purchases, so retailers will need to create more tailored experiences with the help of technology, from consumer engagement to delivery.

Strategies could include everything from encouraging customers to vote early via social on new designs to customized packaging and delivery (less packaging/ consolidation of shipments). Savvy retailers will put their efforts towards digital—check out the newly AI-powered launch of The Yes, the app completely tailoring fashion feeds to the individual consumer via a Yes/No questionnaire.

Engagement-wise, brands need to be easily discoverable online, have a robust social media strategy, and digital concierge assistants that seamlessly assist both novice and seasoned online shoppers. There will also need to be a focus on supply-chain and delivery as on-demand, and door-to-door models will be applied to more categories of business, including fashion, wellness, and home goods.”

Kathy Sheehan, SVP, Cassandra

“Covid-19 has emerged as a defining event for today’s Gen Zs and Millennials. Despite well-publicized pictures of young people partying on spring break back in March, the overwhelming majority of 18- to 34-year-olds say that they are “closely following” the news about COVID-19, roughly the same as all other generational cohorts. Building upon the findings of the Cassandra Report®, we are looking at youth through the lens of Covid-19 to provide insights on which cultural trends are emerging, which values are being amplified and what behavioral changes are likely to be sustained post-pandemic.

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One of the things we are watching is mental health. Much has been made already about Gen Z being the “mental health generation,” but many young people are finding their mental and emotional wellbeing under an even more intense assault during the pandemic. In addition to exacerbating feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, Covid-19 is also bringing on a new, and different, feelings of loss. Many young people are now seeing major milestone events such as their prom, graduation, or a wedding postponed indefinitely, if not outright cancelled completely.

Much has been made already about Gen Z being the “mental health generation,” but many young people are finding their mental and emotional wellbeing under an even more intense assault during the pandemic.

Such events mark important rites of passage for these young people: for Zs, their proms or graduation ceremonies were supposed to be the payoff for their hard work as well as a signifier of closure of adolescence and primary education. Many Millennials are cancelling markers of later-stage young adulthood such as weddings & travel. Nostalgia and references to this time in their lives will be completely different for today’s Gen Zs and Millennials than for other generations. And this means that future milestones will likely take on a different tone and how they adapt and celebrate future moments may evolve.”

Felix Stubenrauch, Principal Innovations, s. Oliver

“Personally, I don’t believe there will be any major shifts due to this health crisis – rather the moderate acceleration of ongoing efforts to digitize supply chains. For us as a fashion designer and a retailer with a large brick-and-mortar business that means an accelerating importance of online sales channels and an increased focus on achieving a much more digitally-driven product development process.”