GlobalData Managing Director of Retail, Neil Saunders Gives His Take On The Re-Opening Of Brick and Mortar Retail

This article is part of Raydiant’s Re-opening of Brick and Mortar series which interviews top retail industry experts to better understand the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the sector, how retailers should prepare for the re-opening and what trends, challenges and changes are expected over the next few months. 

The following is an interview we had with Neil Saunders, Managing Director, Retail at GlobalData.

What will the re-opening of Brick and Mortar Retail look like?

NS: In the short term, the reopening of retail will be slow and patchy, and the experience will not be like it was before. Almost all stores will operate under some form of restriction and some will operate by appointment only. Consumers will be more cautious about shopping, especially in enclosed malls. Trading will eventually transition to a more normal state, but it will take a long time for that to happen. 

What should retailers be doing now to prepare for the re-opening?

NS:  Retailers need to put in place clear policies and operating routines to keep their customers and staff safe. This includes ensuring stores are configured to allow for social distancing, getting protective equipment for workers, communicating policies to shoppers and associates, and training those who work on the front-line. How stores operate has changed and helping everyone to understand this is a key part of re-opening successfully. 

How will Covid-19 impact consumer behavior over the long term?

NS:  Once the crisis is over, a lot of consumers will revert to previous behaviors; not all short-term shifts will stick. However, some might, and these include: more value-conscious consumers questioning purchases more deeply; higher levels of online and multichannel shopping; greater use of curbside collection; more attention paid to hygiene and cleanliness in stores; a more ethically and socially aware consumer; and, a greater appreciation for physical shops as a place to connect socially, relax and engage. 

What will be the lasting effects of Covid-19 on Brick and Mortar Retail?

NS:  There will be both positive and negative impacts. On the negative side, a lot of retail space will close. However, this correction was always needed, and the present crisis has only really acted as a catalyst to bring it about. The positive news is that the physical parts of retail that are left will likely be more attractive: more open, more oriented towards leisure, feel and look healthier, and be more engaging. Whatever happens, physical retail will still be around.

What retail technologies will see adoption accelerated due to Covid-19?

NS: There will be a lot more automation as retailers look to save money and reduce their reliance on humans. Things like micro-fulfillment operations in stores to service online demand will become more common. Robots doing tasks like cleaning may also be favored by retailers. Contactless technologies like mobile payments at registers will be demanded and used more by consumers. Technologies to connect various retail channels so they work together in tasks like fulfillment will also be increasingly important.