By Nathaniel Mallon
Despite record inflation, retailers can feel optimistic about the post-pandemic economic recovery. One of the key drivers of the U.S. economy is consumption, and recent numbers indicate that core retail sales growth, after being adjusted for inflation, is still approximately 15 percent higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even better, these numbers show broad-based gains in every sector – from building materials to apparel and even experience-based retailers such as restaurants.
Traditionally, retailers have relied on the movement of inventory and same-store sales to make a profit. During the pandemic, however, many businesses had to turn to e-commerce to remain solvent as shoppers were ordered to stay home and retail spaces shuttered their doors. Today, as foot traffic starts to pick up at many locations, retailers are once again focusing on brick-and-mortar strategies to capture new sales and drive growth. As consumption remains high, those retailers who can adapt their business models to post-pandemic consumer demand and drive shoppers back to their stores will have a definite advantage over their competition.
Experiential Shopping, Personal Connections Will Boost Activity
In-person experiences and personal connections are long overdue. Retail stores are in a prime position right now because even though people may have felt safer shopping online during the pandemic, customers still want to touch and feel the products they are interested in buying. Despite e-commerce sites seemingly providing discounted merchandise, it is human nature to desire the in-person shopping experience. After a long two years under quarantine, consumers are no longer prioritizing the convenience of online, distanced, and safe shopping over in-person experiences. Instead, they have pent-up demand for exploration, bargain hunting, and personal interaction, which bodes well for today’s brick-and-mortar retail store owners.
Customized Experiences Will Attract a Loyal Customer Base
It is also notable that today’s retail sector is in the business of creating jobs. In fact, approximately 728,000 more individuals are working in retail today than were working prior to the pandemic. With people returning to work, retail stores are well-staffed with experienced sales representatives who have the advantage when it comes to creating an ideal shopping experience that will draw consumers back into brick-and-mortar shops. Stores can attract customers by creating enthusiastic offers that provide more than the hit-or-miss and keep-or-return experiences delivered by e-commerce. Adding a personal touch is always a net positive for winning market share and creating return customers who know they will be treated well and provided with custom service that meets their specific needs and wants. It’s imperative to hire those most willing to create a positive customer experience.
Modernization Is Key to Combining Tech and Experience
Before the pandemic, customers were more familiar with either/or shopping – either shopping online at home or going to stores and shopping in person. As people have become more accustomed to clicking ad apps and using on-the-go technology, retailers feel pressured to employ hybrid models that accommodate tech-savvy consumers. This includes promoting access to apps, QR codes, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other digitally-enabled tools that people can use to shop – even while in the store. This way, in-store customers can expect the same benefits they enjoy remotely and remain loyal to the retailer. Honoring ad coupons and online discounts will win consumers in a 360-degree shopping modality.
Show, Don’t Tell
Today’s shoppers, especially millennials, are obsessed with popular trends, and as our society grows more diverse in terms of tastes and experiences, those retailers who stay on top of trends and demographics will have a distinct advantage in driving foot traffic. Stores need to increase their investment now in strategies that consumers will want to follow well into the future. Pop-up shops with seasonal promotions, as well as trendy themes in store fronts, all play a role in increasing in-store traffic. Restaurants can also follow seasonal choices, whether it’s a fall pumpkin spice delight or a summer lobster roll from Maine. Following consumer tastes and sentiments is a powerful draw as it creates new experiences that appeal to a variety of people.
Safety at the Forefront
Even as the pandemic draws to a close and fewer cases of COVID are reported, retailers should remain mindful of safety protocols and assure customers that they are still setting boundaries regarding health and well-being. Providing hand wipes, offering masks at the counter, or even advertising air filtration systems can help retailers calm customers’ minds as they browse in stores. Consumers need to feel – beyond a doubt – that their health is not being compromised by a lack of policy or a laissez-faire attitude regarding COVID and other preventable infectious diseases.
The Future of Retail
Universally, it holds true that retailers who adapt their business models to changing circumstances and consumer trends are most likely to enjoy success. With today’s growth in retail numbers, now is the time for businesses to adjust and draw in more consumers. Retail is surprisingly on the upside, and the owners, occupiers, tenants, and stores who follow proactive business practices will be advantageously positioned to increase foot traffic throughout their respective establishments.