Given the current state of uncertainty, it is not surprising that one of the biggest questions on many people's mind is “what happens now”?
With daily life being turned upside down at a terrifyingly rapid rate, it is hard to imagine what the world will look like after the coronavirus. In particular we have seen massive shifts in the way people are buying, and huge changes in people's spending patterns in a very short space of time.
In this article I outline three major questions that will shape retail in the coming months.
Will conscious consumerism continue to be a key retail trend?
Conscious consumerism is not a new trend in retail. It has been growing in importance over the last few years. People are becoming more aware of the impact of everyday life on our planet and are looking for businesses that are acting responsibly to combat this.
They are also looking for businesses who share their values. Many people have taken this time to re-evaluate what's important to them and this kind of thinking only serves to highlight where businesses match customer’s beliefs and ethics and where they differ.
Environmental concerns have been at the forefront of people’s minds in the last couple of years, ever since the tipping point with single use plastics, dubbed “The Blue Planet 2 effect” after the hard hitting documentary on the state of our oceans made people question the amount of plastic being used.
The Australian wildfires at the beginning of the year only served to remind people of the precariousness of the planet. The fact that the coronavirus lockdowns have shown vividly the impact of pollution on many areas of the world will also serve to remind consumers how important protecting the environment is.
This accelerated concern, I believe, will show itself in even more consumers actively seeking to purchase from sustainable and ethical brands.
In addition, the way that we act during this time will be remembered by many people and I think that this is true of retail businesses in particular.
For example there is a growing humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh and India because of Western fashion brands pulling out and cancelling orders. Although some of them have recently bowed to public pressure to pay their suppliers, the fact that they were able to act this way in the first place will damage their already tarnished reputation.
Small and independent brands that have acted responsibly and supported not just their supply chain but also their customers, the environment and their communities will benefit from this growing shift in customer sentiment.
Will we continue to shop local?
A striking characteristic of this crisis has been how local businesses have stepped up to provide critical services to their customers. Many local shops have had to rapidly upgrade their online presence and add additional services such as delivery to their repertoire to help their customers.
This is particularly noticeable in the food sector where businesses such as local butchers, bakers, fishmongers or zero waste stores are stepping in and helping vulnerable customers when they are unable to get delivery slots from the national chains.
On top of that, the fact that people cannot travel to larger shopping destinations has meant that customers have had to rely solely on their local shops. It's a stark reminder of why local businesses need to be protected and supported at all times not just during a crisis.
Near St, a tech platform that connects inventory in brick and mortar businesses with people searching for products on Google saw a 235% increase in people looking for local businesses to buy from in March.
It is my hope that the relationships that have been built during this time will continue to support local businesses in the future.
What will people be buying next?
For my final question, I wanted to look and a little bit more depth at what people will be buying once this is all over.
I believe we will see two competing trends. On the one hand people will still be craving security and comfort which will manifest in people purchasing soft fabrics, comfortable clothing and items to make their home continue to feel like a warm cocoon. Times of economic uncertainty often encourage people to look for items that make them feel safe and secure.
On the other hand, some people will embrace more of a maximalism trend - a reaction against the time spent indoors with no socialising possible other than endless video calls. Expect to see some customers craving excitement and frivolity as a reaction.
Which one you decide to go for as a business will require you to understand your customer and where they are right now.
As we emerge from the current crisis, one thing is for certain, so many things will have changed. I am cautiously optimistic that for independent purpose-led businesses, some of them will have changed in their favour.
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