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People walking along an almost deserted, pedestrianised, shop lined high street at dusk

The future of retail: Reinventing the shop window post-Covid

The COVID-19 pandemic saw the Euro-zone GDP fall to a post-war record low – and one of the hardest hit sectors was retail.

With a sharp increase in online shopping and a shift towards people shopping locally due to increasing numbers working from home, traditional city centre retailers took the brunt of the impact.

With uncertainty remaining, we investigate how the retail landscape has changed – and look at four ways retailers can adapt for the future.

Who’s leading the retail recovery?

As the pandemic wave broke across Europe, physical stores saw footfall plummet, with 40% of consumers visiting physical stores less1.

As lockdown restrictions have evolved, retail formats with large outdoor spaces that make social distancing easier have proven popular with shoppers1. Retail parks have proven particularly resilient in Spain and Germany, where the number of visitors to specialist retail parks has almost completely recovered to pre-pandemic levels.1

But the high street has been slower to respond. Recent research shows that between March 2020 and March 2021, shopping streets, including Oxford Street in London, the Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Gran Vía in Madrid, Rue Neuve in Brussels, Via del Corso in Rome and Kurfürstendamm in Berlin, all suffered significant falls in customer footfall.2

Is the dramatic increase in online shopping here to stay?

E-commerce growth also exploded across Europe at the peak of the pandemic's first wave.3 Consumers who shopped more online in 2020 were those in countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, such as Spain, Belgium and Italy; whereas Nordic countries, which imposed less severe lockdowns, saw smaller increases in online shopping.4

Even though offline retail is recovering, the comparative pace of e-commerce growth, makes it difficult to envisage a return to the ways things were. In Italy for instance, e-commerce growth has risen to 16.2 times higher than traditional shopping behaviour.3

The question is, then, not if people will continue online shopping, but how often they’ll buy, how much they’ll spend, and how their newly acquired online shopping habits will impact on their in-store purchasing.

Retailers who can offer an effective omnichannel experience for their customers will be best placed to maximise the returns from both offline and online revenue streams.

How can retailers prepare for the future?

In a changing retail landscape, it's clear that retailers need think differently to create a more engaging customer experience. Here are four ways that retailers can prepare for the future of retail.

  • Connect your clicks to your bricks: Turn stores into mini distribution hubs where customers order online and either collect from store or arrange immediate delivery. 34% of retailers reported an increase in revenue after launching a click and collect service.5 Alternatively, retailers can fulfil orders from goods they have in stock and then distribute using local delivery such as Uber Direct or local couriers.
  • Embrace cashless retail: During strict Covid restrictions, shoppers became increasingly comfortable with faster touch-free payment options that they considered to be safer and more hygienic. Savvy retailers are exploring options that allow customers to pay using the method of their choice – whether that’s using their card, their phone or even wearable tech such as smartwatches. You can find out more about cashless transactions here.
  • Take an ethical approach: Retailers that demonstrated a social conscience during the pandemic will win more customers once life returns to normal. 62% of consumers say that ethics such as paying staff fairly, contributing to community, or caring about the environment are more important to them, as a result of the pandemic. This sentiment is strongest amongst shoppers aged 18-34, with 64% saying they will go out of their way to shop with businesses that demonstrate a social conscience.6
  • Go social: Most social platforms have embraced the 'social-commerce' opportunity. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat already have already launched e-commerce functions, and TikTok is testing e-commerce features in Europe.7 But you have to look like you belong. Success in 'social-commerce' lies in grabbing consumers with content that resonates with them. That means even sales content has to be targeted to users' interests and match the aesthetic of the platform it appears on.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to predict the future of retail as the pandemic has accelerated e-commerce growth so much that the old rules no longer apply.

What we do know is that the new shop window is wherever your customer’s attention is at any given time. And the ability to grab that attention and seize the fleeting opportunity will be the key to success in the new retail world.

Click here to read our latest insight report into the sector and hear about what your peers are focusing on.


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1. Savills: 'Impact of Covid-19 on European retail'

2. Mytraffic: 'Top 120 European High Streets'

3. NielsenIQ: 'Europe’s next step in e-commerce growth' – June 2021

4. Statista: 'E-commerce increase due to coronavirus in Europe by country 2020' – April 2021

5. eTail Europe: 'The State of Click and Collect in 2020'

6. Retail Times: 'Socially-conscious, convenience-driven retailers set to win post-pandemic, new research reveals'

7. Retail Insight Network: 'Is social media ecommerce on the rise? Industry experts respond'

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