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EDITORIAL N Brown, Hammerson and the BRC on customers moving on from Covid-19 – just as new uncertainties threaten

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Just as the way we shop seems to be getting back to pre-pandemic patterns as Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions end, more challenges are emerging for retail.

Footfall figures out from the BRC and Sensormatic today suggest that the number of people visiting UK shops was getting closer to pre-pandemic levels in February. That comes as Covid-19 restrictions end, in the form of mandatory social distancing and mask-wearing – and despite the stormy weather brought by storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin in the final weeks of the month. Rising footfall has in recent months been accompanied by a shift in the balance of how shoppers buy online and in-store. It will be interesting in coming weeks to see how much of retail took place online in February as footfall got closer to pre-pandemic levels.

At the same time retail property developer and operator Hammerson has reported a store-led recovery in its business, as customers start to return in greater numbers to its shopping centres, and spend more when there. That in turn, it says, is attracting brands and retailers – including digital natives – to lease stores. The company also points to a shift in the way that shoppers want to buy, making a multichannel approach important for brands and retailers.

The way that retailers and brands now use stores is explored further in a feature from the RetailX UK Top500 2022 report, which considers the advantage that multichannel retail gives to both store-first and digital-first retailers.

At the same time, a trading statement from N Brown Group shows that it’s seeing the way that shoppers buy get closer to pre-pandemic behaviour, with more fashion and fewer homewares now being bought online than during Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns and restrictions.

But just as multichannel and ecommerce retailers find customer behaviour moving on from pandemic patterns, new challenges are emerging. Sensormatic’s Andy Sumpter warns of the coming cost-of-living crisis, which will in turn be exacerbated as oil and gas prices rise further in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, global brands and retailers are also responding to that invasion by suspending sales in Russia, having had to stop selling in Ukraine as war hit.

Elsewhere, a report suggests that a quarter of new Amazon sellers already have an exit strategy in mind – selling to an aggregator.

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