The new dawn of retail – Post Covid


25.02.2021

UWTSD's Laura James, a senior lecturer at the University's Institute of Mangagement and Health, discusses how retail can and will survive in a post-Covid world.

Swansea SA1

“The past 12 months have been onerous on all of us to say the least, but for retail the road has been longer and the corners sharper. The effect of this burden transpires through the loss of some retail giants - Debenhams being the latest to succumb as the pandemic proved to be a journey too far.

It is true that Covid-19 has had an irreversible effect on the High street but arguably not all of these have been negative. In many of the darkest hours, some of our High Street retailers have stood up and refused to go unheard and unnoticed. Stories of our shops that extended a hand in times of despair when we all needed to feel a sense of belonging to our community. The local stores who, after a long dayshift became late night retailers to allow their customers to buy their Christmas Presents in a Covid Safe environment following an abrupt government announcement. These are the stories we will tell our children and our children's children. The story of Welsh community and perseverance against adversity. The retailers who knew nothing much of online presence and social media marketing revolting against this disease and adapting to flourish in their new environment.

The banks who have developed teams of digital heroes who have come to the aid of many who are new to the digital era, sharing their skills.

They are the new dawn of Retail.

As consumers, we have been thrown into a new era where we have been forced to change our habits, often kicking and screaming. Even those who enjoyed a weekend stroll amongst the hustle and bustle of the markets have had to adapt and swap for a lonelier affair with only a screen for company. The acceleration of the trend in the demands by us as consumers is phenomenal and it is true that we have often been left waiting for retail to catch up. Our journey of change did indeed start before the pandemic swarmed our streets and we had begun to enjoy the freedom and extra time it gave us. Many retailers had begun to switch on to this and the online offering was developing at a gentle pace in the most. Nothing had prepared the high street, however, for the abrupt incline that awaited them in March 2020 as the pandemic hit a fast forward on this transition. Little did we know that our beloved shops would close their doors in March to 12 months of uncertainty and insecurity.

What we are buying has also changed. We have different priorities, and our buying habits are reflecting this. We are spending more money on our houses - taking time and care to turn them into our home. Health and wellbeing are more important to us now than ever and even what clothes we buy are changing.

How we pay for things has seen a shift too, with the contactless payment limit being increased to allow for a safer payment method and cash often lying redundant in our purses.

Whether these changes to our consumer behaviour will continue as we ease out of lockdown and return to the high street, only time will tell. But we should and must prepare for the new normal of the high street.

We have experienced a different shopping ‘story’, one which offers us efficiency, browsing at 2am after a night shift, social media shopping whilst supporting local in shops that wouldn’t have offered this before.  And whilst many will be eager to return to the delights of a shopping trip in a physical store and banking with a human who wears a smile, we will likely hang on to some fondness for the pandemic shopping story. It is very likely that we will want the choice to choose between and change between.

The important thing then, is that the high street needs to learn to adapt and change too- not before us, not after us, but beside us as consumers who are willing them to thrive. The new dawn of Retail must see the birth of a new hybrid shop- adapting and growing with their customers offering multiple ways to shop. Small green shoots are beginning to show as our smaller, local shops are starting to poke through the winters foliage to be seen and heard and loved. Retailers that offer efficient online and click and collect platforms alongside a physical space.

These are the retailers of our post-pandemic society.

A new hybrid shopping experience that sees a high street littered with independent shops that have adapted and continue to adapt to every hurdle faced and every challenge accepted.

We must not mourn the Highstreet of the past but look forward to the excitement of the future and all the benefit it brings with it. A greener future for retail. A thriving Highstreet that threads through the heart of the community. A dynamic workforce that welcomes change and embraces agility. One which not only sustains their business but one which promotes growth and diversification.”

Laura James is a University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Level 4 Coordinator and Lecturer, Cardiff Skills for The Workplace:

And Programme Manager and Lecturer, Managing Retail for Growth