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EDITORIAL What new trends in online and physical retail are emerging as lockdown lifts?

The new normal in stores is also an opportunity (Image: Shutterstock)

Despite footfall figures climbing again in August and shoppers increasingly willing to head to stores, most retailers are now under no illusion that they have to invest heavily – and rapidly – in securing and effective ecommerce presence if they are to stand a chance of surviving.

However, the change in consumer shopping habits isn’t limited to just a switch from the high street to the internet. How they shop online, what they buy and what they then look to the high street to provide have all changed – and these changes look permanent.

According to research this week by Bazaarvoice, the shift to online has ushered in some interesting new habits. Retail subscriptions have taken off, with now one in five online shoppers doing at least one.

Part of this is convenience, but part too is that it is often cheaper – and the research also shows that finding bargains or the best price is now a key factor in purchase behaviour for many shoppers.

However, it is more subtle than just price: shoppers want value. This is, of course, a price issue, but it is also one of ease of purchase, speed of delivery and even how well the products are demonstrated and explained.

Even how the company communicates is driving a new kind of loyalty, with chatbots actually helping to create a sense of connection with brands, especially for younger Gen Z shoppers.

This is why Homebase is investing in a total revamp of its website, to make it more interactive and more ‘expert’… it is looking to make it a destination for home lovers, rather than just an online hardware store.

None of this, though, should be lost of high street retailers: it is what many used to do in the golden days of personalised retail in shops. And perhaps it is time it made a comeback? While shoppers are slowly trickling back to the high street, bricks and mortar stores need to do more to service them when they do don their masks and help themselves to the free hand sanitiser (‘gel-erlising’ as my ten year old daughter calls it).

A separate study by EY finds that shoppers are coming back – backed up by the latest Springboard footfall figures – but it also suggests that they too are shopping differently in stores to how they did pre-lockdown.

More shoppers are trying new products, they are going for own-brand goods and they too are looking for a bargain. They are also very hygiene-conscious and want some form of joined up physical-digital experience.

What this offers bricks and mortar retailers is a golden opportunity to experiment with what works. It may not seem the time to rethink everything as you are desperate to get back to normal, but normal has changed. Now is the time to usher in omni-channel retailing – or the elements of it that work for you – as well as look at what you can learn from online and put into action.

Times are tough – and may yet get tougher – but there is a strange optimism creeping in that things have changed and we can make this work. Time to roll up the sleeves, smother your selves in alcohol gel and get cracking.

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