The Long Term Impact Of COVID On Brick and Mortar Retail According to 14 Industry Experts

This article is part of Raydiant’s Re-opening of Brick and Mortar series which aims to provide insights, ideas, and resources to business owners and executives in the retail industry to have some perspective on how COVID-19 could change the landscape for their businesses in the long run.

We’ve collaborated with different executives, business owners, and thought leaders to crowdsource insights and expertise that will ensure this content is timely and helpful as possible.

Debbie Hauss, Executive Director of Content, Retail TouchPoints

"Many stores will not survive, especially Main Street, Mom-and-Pop establishments. It’s sad but true. On the other end of the spectrum, some larger chains that were already struggling prior to the pandemic will shutter at least some of their storefronts, if not all in some cases." 

The retailers that remain need to accelerate the in-store innovations they may have been simply considering in the past, such as contactless payment and compelling experiences. 

Charu Thomas, Founder at Oculogx

"Brick and mortar retail has already been forever impacted by COVID-19. Going forward, retailers will be forced to rethink their footprint or perish. How can you re-use inventory in as many locations as possible? What technologies can you use to support operations like curbside pickup?"

Making operations more efficient has a huge impact in your ability to serve as many customers as possible.

Imogen Wethered, CEO and founder of Qudini

"Judging by the current interest in virtual service options, we could see many consumers and retailers realize that quality and effective service can take place through online channels, saving retailers both time and resources." 

Right now, we’re also seeing consumers of all age groups opting for BOPIS services to reduce their risk of exposure to the pandemic. We could see this interest extend beyond the confines of COVID-19, which will have a significant impact on retailers’ omni-channel offerings.

Joshua Williams, founding president of Fashion Consort and assistant professor of fashion management, Parsons School of Design

"The long-lasting effects of CDVID-19 on brick and mortar will primarily focus on in-store experience and service. Consumers will be much more aware of how stores are designed to increase personal space while shopping. Clean bathrooms, hand sanitizer and clear messaging around products will also become front and center."

Brick and Mortar retailers will also need to be much more strategic in where they operate stores and will be required to provide more localized experiences that engage the community. In an environment where regions are affected differently by the coronavirus, customers will expect more localized experiences.

Neil Saunders, Managing Director, Retail at Global Data

"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.

Victoria Peppiatt, Co-founder and COO of Phrasee

"It is time for retail brands to seek solutions that will drive immediate impact. Sometimes, rolling new technologies out can require enormous change to business processes, infrastructure, budgets and teams."

In this case, the tech-savvy brands will be the ones to find quick AI wins which are easy to use and quick to implement. They will be the brands that come out on top.

Sarah Assous, CMO of Zoovu

"The lasting effects of COVID-19 on brick and mortar retail will be the need for omnichannel and providing the same level of guidance and assistance expected from the pre-pandemic in-store experience to digital channels. This requires all brick and mortar stores to be adopting technology on their digital platforms that simplify the customer journey. We may not be able to go into a store and browse for an extended period of time, both customers and businesses will need to adapt." 

Cami Zimmer, Chief Business Officer at Glympse 

"In the same way 9/11 brought about lasting changes to the travel industry, I believe COVID-19 will do the same for retail. Technology will drive this evolution. We will see more checkout-free and touch-free shopping, as well as more investments in experiences that reduce the need for physical interaction in-store. Also, moving forward, I think that retail stores are going to become fulfillment centers. Also, curbside pickup is here to stay. I really expected consumers and businesses to adapt to curbside pickup somewhere between 2022 and 2024. COVID 19 has made that a reality in just one month."

Anne Mezzenga, CEO and Co-founder of Omni Talk and Third Haus

"The physical footprints of many stores are going to change. Things like packing and staging stations for curbside pickup and delivery orders, will find a more permanent place in many physical stores." 

We’ll see more space dedicated to back of house fulfillment as stores move to serve the shoppers in their physical stores and online, and also changes to parking lots and store exteriors to simplify the pickup/delivery of goods. 

Sanford Stein, Founder of Retail Speak 

"More of what had already been happening prior to the pandemic. Continued wash out of specialty chain retailers, particularly those that are fashion related. Substantial contraction, and liquidation within the mall-based department store segment, and an escalation in mall closures. Continued consolidation and market share growth amongst leaders Target, Walmart, and Costco (also Amazon). This will also provide new opportunities for strong, omnichannel, independent retailers who offer superior products, service and overall customer experience."

Lynn Xu, Chief of Retail Solution, Clobotics

"What can’t break you makes you stronger. Brick and mortar retailers who survived COVID-19 will continue building their online muscle and emerge even stronger should new rounds of lockdown occur." 

This means they need to build a much stronger supply chain management in response to a much bigger range of peak and valley sales, and continue investing in more resources to improve online shopping experience.

Julie Bula, CFO and Co-Founder at Sweft LLC

"Brick and mortar stores will evolve to be primarily for experience and immediate need fulfillment. Nothing on a website can truly evoke the essence of a brand like an in-store experience. This is true whether that brand uses music and scent to evoke different emotions and aspirations from a customer or interactive demos that let you use products before you buy. Even though delivery times have gotten impressively fast – usually only a day or two for most retailers – customers will still need to “run out” and buy a few things they’ve forgotten for a project or for an impromptu event."

Marci Weisler, Chief Commercial Officer at Vengo

"Retailers have been going through a reckoning over the past many years as competition and digital adoption has grown. COVID-19 serves as a great accelerator.   Time is going to be condensed and programs that were on five-year plans may now be on two-year or even shorter plans. Those who can adapt and move quickly, leverage new technology, understand the new consumers, and provide engaging and valuable solutions will endure. With real estate also going through a reckoning, there could be some really interesting experiences that tie in retail, once the high threat of the pandemic has been mitigated by vaccine and/or cure."

Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group

"Retailers that have made investments in their stores and supply chain over the last several years are going to be well positioned when the coronavirus pandemic subsides."

Once the quarantine across the United States is lifted, we anticipate consumers are going to want to go to stores and be outside of their homes so retailers that have invested in their stores will see a higher benefit from store traffic. On the other hand, retailers that have an unclear customer value proposition or have been in no man’s land for a bit will, unfortunately, see a more rapid decrease in their business as they have to protect their profitability and make difficult decisions sooner.