Michigan State University Professor of Retailing Patricia Huddleston On The Future of Brick and Mortar Retail

This article is part of Raydiant’s Future of Brick and Mortar Retail series featuring interviews with industry experts and thought leaders with the goal of providing actionable insights that can help brick and mortar retailers prepare for what lies ahead.

The following is an interview we had with Patricia Huddleston, Professor of Retailing at Michigan State University.

What are the 3-5 top trends that will shape brick and mortar retail in 2021?

PH: Until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control, these three things will shape how brick and mortar retailers do business in 2021. Creating and maintaining a safe shopping environment for both customers and employees will be of paramount importance. Unless consumers feel safe shopping in person, they will stay away. Increasingly, consumers are concerned with how retailers treat their employees and will patronize retailers that are concerned about their employee’s health. Second, continuing to provide convenience will resonate with consumers. For example, some retailers are editing their merchandise assortments, offering fewer choices. This facilitates consumer decision making. Store layouts will be adjusted to improve wayfinding through in-store signage and give consumers room to maneuver. This also increases safety.

What technologies will have the biggest impact on brick and mortar retail in 2021?

PH: Technologies that facilitate contactless payment shape the checkout experience will be important for retailers until the COVID pandemic is under control. This is related to the safe shopping trend mentioned above. For example, Meijers (a regional hypermarket) has recently implemented a shop and scan app that allows shoppers to scan items as they put them into their cart and then check out using one bar code.

What should brick and mortar retailers be doing now to prepare for 2021?

PH: Design messages that emphasize the safety and convenience aspects of shopping in-store. Pay meticulous attention to adhering to CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID (wearing masks, social distancing and limiting the number of shoppers (to avoid crowding). For example, some stores are taking shopping appointments (e.g., Apple, Best Buy, Target) to reduce crowding and create convenience for their customers. Retailers should also pay close attention to inventory levels of key necessities (hand sanitizer, toilet paper, cleaning products) and limit purchase of these key items to avoid hoarding and opportunistic consumer buying. These actions increase customer trust in the retailer and also relieve the stress of worrying about whether these products will be available.

In the midst of so much change and uncertainty, what's the future of brick and mortar retail look like?

PH: We will always have brick and mortar stores, but the landscape is changing dramatically. There are clear winners and losers in brick and mortar. Some retail formats, like department stores and some apparel specialty stores, will continue to struggle. While others, like dollar and discount stores, will thrive. In 2020, Dollar Tree and Dollar General continued to open new stores. Discount stores like Target enjoyed a 20% sales increase over 2019. Once the limitations of the COVID pandemic lift, stores that provide a fun and unique shopping experience (e.g., Nike, Lululemon, Apple) will attract fun starved shoppers.