How is the virus impacting the retail industry

Jonathan Jones 22/07/2020 3 minute read

Has Covid-19 changed our lives forever? Or will a vaccine providing proven lasting protection be produced, made widely available and injected into everyone living in the UK, the whole world? Or maybe a vaccine, if found, will be administered only to essential workers, ensuring a time-limited resistance. The chances are though that most of us will continue to rely on physical barriers and social distancing to limit the spread of the virus and carry-on much as we have done in the past.

But some norms are expected to change, perhaps irreversibly. The implications are most likely to be felt by public transport, large indoor gatherings, the leisure industry and, of course, retail too as working from home increases and people move-away from commutable-to-city locations. Even the future of our biggest and most iconic shopping centres, such as Trafford and Lakeside, is under threat.

Shoppers are now less free or willing to browse in store. There are no testers, fewer impulse purchases, no dwell time; instead they look for specific products to buy and leave as quickly as possible.

The reverse is happening online, says Wizz Selvey of brand consultancy Wizz&Co. “The shift to digital has been the biggest impact as customers are spending longer online and are looking for brands to connect with, educate and inspire them,” says. It is a huge opportunity for Indie brands to connect as customers look for brands that align to their values.”

So how should brands do this? Wizz explains: “Creating a community is more important than ever as customers are looking for deeper connections from brands – brands should think about how they can create loyalty and brand advocates, so their best customers are talking about their brand to their friends.”

But wait a moment, perhaps the consequences will not be so dire for the high street after all? “The investment that retailers have made in customer experience and services is not lost,” explained Francoise Therin, NPD Group, in her COPRA Live interview with the retail organisation’s Debbie Trumper. Customers are still buying online, she said, but the good news for bricks and mortar retailers in the UK, Spain, France and Italy, is that after lockdown ended (for most) sales online were not as high as expected. There was, she reported, a big-pull back of 40 percentage points for stores operating in the first week.

It is the ability of the industry to adapt that wins the admiration of Debbie Trumper, Debbie Trumper Consulting. “The beauty industry has always been resilient in such times, but Covid19 has really shown its strength, certainly across some of the Bricks & Mortar retailers, putting a real pressure on those businesses, unlike some of the on-line beauty businesses who have performed extremely well, again proving the beauty sectors adaption & resilience.”

But one early trend maybe rising out of this toxic mixture of pandemic, climate change and bio-diversity crisis, is a growing less-is-more attitude, a move towards a natural look, vegan and organic products, and the doctor’s philosophy: “first, do no harm”.

Wizz sums it up: “One of the biggest shifts has been the “conscious consumerism” trend, it is a movement that has been fast-tracked as customers start to buy less, they will be more considered about what they purchase and from whom.”

Certainly, the majority of brands exhibiting in Breakthrough Beauty are proudly natural, organic or vegan, often a combination of all three, and even before the virus hit it was reported that French women were increasingly favouring a natural look. NPD has also found evidence of a ‘natural face’ preference and while makeup and lipstick sales have declined they reveal skincare, spa at home, hair and nail colour sales are rising.

And this last point is further good news for many of the brands on this site. No matter what, although the world has changed and there are many new reference points to consider, business still has to continue and people still have to make money. We just need to adapt and find new ways of doing this.

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