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365 days of lockdown – did they change retail for good?

26 Mar 2021

One year after the first lockdown, we observe how the pandemic has accelerated existing consumer behaviour trends and how retailers have started adapting their offers to set the foundation for success post-Covid

It has now been 365 days since the first “stay at home” plead from the government in the nation-wide attempts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. With this unfortunate anniversary upon us, we have started reflecting on the past year and taking stock of how the way we live and interact as a society has profoundly changed. As possibly the industry hardest hit by Covid, retail has been one of the most thoroughly analysed sectors over the last annum – discussing at great lengths what would change in the long-term and how businesses could respond to such changes. With one year of (unfortunate) lockdown experience, let’s have a look at the damage done, changes that took place, and some ideas how to restore retail to its former glory (albeit with new means and approach).

With 11,000 retail outlets already closed in 2020, analysts warn that the Covid aftermath might be even tougher as further 18,000 stores might close in 2021 and a fourth lockdown might put 67,000 retail jobs in danger. It seems as even though there is light at the end of the tunnel, retail might have even tougher times ahead if things do not go entirely according to the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. However, looking at the general trend even before lockdown, it seems that the pandemic just accelerated what was already underway – what is deemed as ‘lockdown legacy’ were very much trends and movements even before 2020:

  • Customers were looking to adopt more sustainable consumption habits by shopping locally and minimising their footprint on environment and society
  • Retailers were looking for the answer to the future role of the physical retail space
  • And finally, we were all starting to demand products and services tailored to our individual preferences and lifestyle goals.

So even before the pandemic, retail had already embarked on its transformation journey – regardless whether all businesses were realising it. Riding the wave of these trends, Capgemini opened the CornerShop at the heart of London where we bring to life the store and retail experience of tomorrow together with our partners from The Drum and SharpEnd. The concepts merging physical and digital experience we test there are reflective of the acceleration of behavioural changes amongst retail customers – worth a check if you have not already done so!

Given the still uncertain times ahead, some retailers are seeking to emerge from the pandemic world with new strong offers and propositions to cater for the change in our behaviours and habits. Talking about purposeful consumption, Waitrose is removing kids magazines containing “pointless plastic” such as toys in them. They are also urging publishers to replace them with sustainable alternatives. This is part of a larger initiative by the grocery chain to cut down single use plastic, but also comes as a response from an inspirational 10-year-old campaigning against such “pointless plastic” in Wales. Seems that the change in consumption behaviours is starting from the youngest which represent the future customers of retailers, so why not start listening to them from now…

In anticipation of the long awaited reopening of physical stores, Selfridges has announced its year-long ‘Good Nature’ campaign which does not only aim to bring retail closer to the great outdoors and nature, but also to redefine their physical stores into social places where customers can come together to show their appreciation for local communities and environment. Hardly a new trend or idea to capitalise on it, but definitely something that sounds more desirable (and lucrative from a commercial point of view) in the current reality.

And finally let’s have a look at the customers’ desire to hyper-personalise their experiences and differentiate themselves when they emerge into the ‘new normal’ after Covid. Burberry has taken an interesting twist on the topic by offering their trademark garments as customisable character outfits in a new online game in China. It seems like a brilliant move to introduce the company’s product range in a market where the brand is highly desirable, but people are not really (yet) looking to buy high-end clothes due to the existing restrictions. So why not prepare your wish list of items by enjoying an unrestricted virtual world and then emulate your character’s style once lockdown limitations in the real world are lifted. This merger of gaming and luxury brands is quite the regular occurrence in Asian countries, but seems to be slow to gather adoption in the Western world. If the acceleration of such trends due to Covid is anything to go by, we might soon be trying out clothes not in stores, but on our in-game avatars and purchasing them directly to wear and enjoy in the real (soon to be) unrestricted world outside!