By Mark Geden, Head of Planning at Tribal Worldwide
With freedom day now past and British high streets once again fully open, it’s sometimes hard to remember back to pre-covid times. But the virus has left its mark on our retail landscape – masks are now a key item for shoppers, hand sanitisers greet people as they cross the threshold and many shoppers will stick to the relative ease and comfort of online shopping, avoiding busy shopping districts altogether.
The past year and a half – with its lockdowns, missed holiday opportunities, confusing rules and regulations and inclement weather – has presented multiple barriers to spending. Both essential and non-essential spending has been severely curtailed and for a significant section of the population, these barriers have resulted in unspent earnings and boosted savings – now sitting there, taunting and teasing those desperate for some retail therapy.
How post-lockdown spending behaviour manifests itself will vary; while some will maximise their savings gains, for others rebound splurges and some longed for extravagance will win through. But for those businesses looking to meet the pent-up spending needs of a significant swathe of consumers – whether on home refreshes, outfit updates or new tech – they may now have trouble keeping up with demand.
Supply shortages are one of the first longtail side effects of the pandemic and subsequent global lockdowns. Everything with a chip in it, from Tamagotchis to Toyotas, is affected by the lack of readily available semi-conductors in the global market, resulting in the double whammy of increased consumer demand, while manufacturers and retailers struggle with stock supply.
For many, this new, more intense atmosphere will create an uncomfortable and unfamiliar tension in their customer experience. Brands and retailers will have to adjust and adapt to a change in shopper mindset. If shortages lead to a fear of missing out, there will most likely be an attendant reduction in the time spent on purchasing decisions and the level of consideration put into researching the right product or service for their needs. There is the potential for this to lead to more financial overstretching and/or future loyalty being affected by dissatisfaction with the product, their buying experience or the brand.
Even though physical shopping is on the rise as more businesses open and restock, ecommerce has established a new role in people’s lives. It stepped up and helped plug the gap during the height of the pandemic when there were no other retail options available. Digital commerce reached people who had never used it before and so discovered a world of online shopping. There is much debate about whether some of these customers will ever go back to their old bricks and mortar ways.
While the price rises that inevitably result from product shortages and interrupted supply chains may suggest that more people will turn to the perceived ‘cheaper’ online channels, we’re starting to hear noises that some of that hyper-convenience, straight to your doorstep, free returns novelty is beginning to wear thin.
The reality is, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated a retail brand’s personalised product recommendations or glossy magazine and video content are, for many shoppers these will never match the experience offered by being in a store. The physical retail outlet remains the best place for a multi-sensory experience – where shoppers are surrounded with real products, inspiring them with expertly curated displays, and instant access to useful and knowledgeable staff.
So, while in the closing months of 2021 we’ll see significant digital shopping happening, especially with this Christmas set to be the biggest online Christmas ever, we’ll also see growing interest and desire for rich, immersive, event-like, in-store retail experiences. And this will cut across the retail portfolio – from a Regent Street flagship to the local high street or out-of-town shopping park.