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EDITORIAL Happy New Year: what will 2022 deliver for retail?

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Happy New Year? That very much remains to be seen: the impact of Omicron on retail is really yet to be fully seen, but as data from how shoppers shopped over Christmas and New Year start to dribble in, some early trends may be emerging.

With restrictions on people’s movements greatly lessened from last Christmas there has been a distinct move back towards store shopping. It is nowhere near where it was pre-pandemic, but there are indications of just how it may play a larger role in the retail journey going forward than many had feared.

Online grocery sales for December show a 3.7% dip this year compared to last – still way up on pre-pandemic 2019 – driven in part by difficulty in securing a delivery slot in the run up to Christmas, but also by the desire to browse luxury items and gifts.

In beauty, a separate study shows that around 60% of consumers actively want to go to stores to buy – or at least to try – cosmetics and to interact with sales agents for advice than to use the web or social media.

And we have also seen that in the run up to New Year’s Eve, footfall in High Streets started to pick up despite a surge in Covid-19 and a dismal week in the run up to Christmas Eve.

Even travellers are starting to buy from stores in travel hubs, such as Pret a Manger, WHSmiths and Upper Crust, helpfully guided by a new ‘ethical’ targeted ad service.

There are also suggestions that there is likely to be a surge in returns to stores of goods largely purchased online as gifts in the past few months.

All this offers some crumbs of comfort for physical retail – it still has a role to play in how people shop – only it is now part of a much wider and more diverse shopping experience.

True, beauty shoppers want to shop in stores to get advice, but they also want to use social to get inspired and to inspire others. Grocery shoppers may also want to return to convenience of online shopping now we are all back to mundanity of just doing the weekly shop, using the store instead for special purchases as the need arises.

Returners too may also look to spend their refunds or exchange their goods in-store while there, but they will almost certainly have used the internet to assess what they might want to get their hands on.

All in all, 2022 could yet see a small surge in High Street retail as more integrated part of the whole shopping journey, but much still depends – as ever – on Covid. It looks likely that once again we are in for a year of change and change again as that particular story plays out.

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