The Big Bounceback: Retail

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As more consumers get vaccinated and states officially reopen, consumers are looking forward to going out shopping. Pandemic trends like spikes in ecommerce and options for curbside pickup will not go away, but more people are expected to visit physical stores where they can browse and try on items.

As more consumers get vaccinated and states officially reopen, consumers are looking forward to going out shopping.

Pandemic trends like spikes in ecommerce and options for curbside pickup will not go away, but more people are expected to visit physical stores where they can browse and try on items.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have believed that retail, specifically brick-and-mortar, would play an active role in the industry’s recovery,” says Jamie Millar, Vice President of the Direct to Consumer Business at Carhartt. “Everyone wants to get back to normal, however, that term has truly been redefined by both COVID-19 and the consumer. Now, we’re all adjusting to what the ‘new normal’ will look like.” 

Over the last 15 months or so, traditional brick-and-mortar consumers have had to rethink how they shopped and purchased goods and services, leaning into e-commerce and the digital experience. “For Carhartt, we found that shift made customers’ connection between their phones and hometown shops more important than ever – whether that was placing orders for curbside pick-up or handling general customer service questions,” says Millar.

Convincing people to come back inside of stores will require building trust and making them feel safe to make the transition from staying at home to going out smoother.

“As we look toward the future, our focus is on adjusting to this new normal, while continuing to keep our associates and consumers safe,” Millar says. “We have seen that our customers are excited to return to retail locations, but only when they have personally made the decision that they are comfortable. That one-on-one experience and product knowledge shared between the customer and associate is something that can’t be replaced. That valuable connection is something we anticipate will only continue to increase in the coming months.”

There is a big opportunity for retail this year. The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects the economy to grow 6.6 percent this year, the highest level since 1984 when it increased by 7.2 percent. With this perspective, NRF is predicting that retail will grow by 6.5-8.2 percent to more than $4.33 trillion this year. As more retailers are opening their physical locations and bringing people back to work, retail brands could see the biggest bounceback in decades.

“While there is a great deal of uncertainty about how fast and far this economy will grow in 2021, surveys show an increase in individuals being vaccinated, more willingness to receive a vaccination, increased spending intentions and comfort with resuming pre-pandemic behaviors like shopping, travel and family gatherings,” says Jack Kleinhenz, Chief Economist at NRF, in a statement shared with Brand Innovators. “This feel-better situation will likely translate into higher levels of household spending, especially around upcoming holidays like the Fourth of July and spending associated with back-to-work and back-to-school.”

After a year at home, demand is high among consumers to go out and enjoy themselves. And many people have the money to spend. Despite economic challenges in some industries, overall American households saved $2.4 trillion in February alone, about twice the average monthly savings during 2019. 

As brands look to re-engage consumers as they begin to return to stores and malls, the right content is the way to connect. 

“Throughout the last year, it’s become increasingly clear that shoppers have been looking to simplify their lives and turn to reliable, trusted brands that represent quality as well as their own personal values,” says Mary Alderete, CMO of the Gap. “Our latest GENERATION GOOD campaign is a great example of creating content around being a catalyst for meaningful change, featuring a namesake collection of Gap’s most sustainable essentials to date and a cast of cross-generational change-makers. The category leaders that will emerge with momentum are those that have been able to make a lasting and culturally relevant connection between their products and consumers.” 

Engagement is also core for Walgreens, a retailer that stayed open during the pandemic to serve healthcare needs. 

“Throughout the pandemic, Walgreens continues to be a business that customers turn to for health and well-being needs, pharmacy expertise, as well as a safe place to shop for their everyday essentials,” said Patrick McLean, CMO of Walgreens. “As the country gets ready to emerge from the pandemic, Walgreens is leaning into opportunities to engage new and existing customers with experiences that make their lives more seamless like giving them the option to schedule their COVID-19 vaccine and place an order for Same Day Delivery all through a quick visit to the Walgreens app.”

Brand Innovators is hosting a livecast on Diverse Voices in Retail Marketing today (May 11th).

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