Shopping is fundamentally social

If there’s one lesson the world can agree on from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that humans need face-to-face contact. Most people have tolerated lockdowns for the benefit of the greater good, but it’s clear that the world misses in-person interactions. The world has adapted – at least temporarily – to the current state of affairs, watching sports teams in bubbles, ordering gourmet takeaway meals, and attending classes over Zoom. But let’s face it: fans want to be back in the stadium. Diners want to be back in their favorite restaurant. Kids want to be back in school.

Retail and the act of shopping have naturally followed the rest of the world into an online-to-survive state. We’ve seen social distancing inside and outside of physical stores. When stores closed to customers, many shifted to click-and-collect. When even that was regulated as too risky, stores shifted to e-commerce.

Some might say that the shift is permanent, as well-known high street brands like TopShop and Brooks Brothers declared bankruptcy, along with retailers including Neiman Marcus and JCPenney. However, looking closer at the fundamentals provides a more nuanced understanding of the retail picture. Lack of footfall did not cause these bankruptcies; coronavirus complications only accelerated their demise. New entrants with a better understanding of consumer desires had already been gaining market share, offering products on trend and on price, made possible without the overhead of a bland retail experience.

People want to get back to a world of real human interactions as soon as possible. When restrictions are eased, the world will see a return to physical shopping in safe environments. The retailers that haven’t adapted will resume their decline as the government subsidies disappear. The retailers who understand how to deliver experiences that meet consumer needs will lead the way, face-to-face with their consumers.

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Being: Peter Kim