COVID-19 has sparked the popularization of low-key technologies and the mainstreaming of niche retail trends.
After the coronavirus pandemic, what will be the new normal? Will consumer demand patterns change? How will technologies adapt as a result of social distancing and inventory shortages? And how long will it take for the economy to recover? With supportive efforts geared towards greater sustainability, these changes have the potential to be part of a socio-economic rehabilitation that many people have been yearning for.
We are already seeing the popularization of low-key technologies and the mainstreaming of niche retail trends, many of which foster connectivity and mindfully remind us of our interdependence with nature. Some of these were already gaining traction before the outbreak whilst others were slightly less expected.
With this in mind, here are the top post-pandemic retail trends set to gain momentum.
1. The come-back of local business
The pandemic has instilled in many consumers a greater interest in supporting local businesses. Many shoppers will continue to shop local, even post Covid-19, to ensure that their favourite coffee shops, breweries and boutiques don’t go bust.
We have already seen a number of innovations to accommodate the changing demand. For example, UK-based Streetify is hoping its website and free app will connect consumers with local stores. Users of the app and website can even choose the street they wish to visit and can scroll left or right to “walk” up and down. They are shown virtual storefronts and can click on any store to enter its Streetify website.
Shoppers can also use the app to create their own, personal “high streets,” where they choose their favourite shops. Their streets can be shared on social media, and shoppers can even follow famous celebrities, who can share their code to followers, allowing them to shop at the Streetify version of their favourite store.
Likewise, in the grocery world, roles could be reserved – with online fetchers supplying the basics and viewed as the community-supported agriculture services that deliver local goods at smaller scales.
Early signs of this initiative can already be found in Berlin. The Stay Home Club offers a delivery service through its online portal for a number of Berlin companies that sell fair trade or sustainable food products.
In return, participating companies are asked to contribute money from each sale to the Save Berlin’s Club Culture in Quarantine, an initiative which donates money to support clubs, employees and artists that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
2. Stores ‘go dark’
As lockdown instructions and social distancing limit the number of customers inside physical stores, some brands are turning their locations into dark stores to fulfil delivery and pickup orders.
Dark stores are large warehouses that can be used to facilitate “click-and-collect” services, with customers collecting items they have pre-ordered online. For example, Whole Foods recently converted stores in Los Angeles and New York to dark stores.
Whilst the big supermarket chains have been investing in this for a while, COVID has inspired a similar movement across restaurants known as “ghost-kitchens”. These are food establishments that prepare meals solely for delivery.
Whilst ghost kitchens can accommodate extensions of existing restaurants or new brands, several of them can exist within the same physical kitchen. This means sharing ingredients, equipment, and cooking staff to supply multiple restaurant brands. For customers, this provides the opportunity to order Vietnamese food, falafel and sushi from the same address whilst all from different restaurants.
A popular example is Bowlila, which will be based out of the Colony ghost kitchen in West Los Angeles — together with 25 other kitchens and various brands providing delivery and pick up. Bowlila will also have an electric bicycle cart that will serve up its flavorful chickpea bowls from different locations across LA.
Likewise, in Denver, high-scale restaurant Blue Island Oyster Bar is harnessing the concept to create a sub-brand that caters for the millennial delivery crowd. Denver Lobster Shop operates out of the same kitchen but doesn’t have a dining area. They hope this will allow them to reach an entirely new group of customers looking for quality seafood at a lower price.
3. Virtual reality experiences for purchase
Whilst already gaining momentum pre-COVID, the pandemic could be a catalyst to reinvigorate Virtual Reality (VR). From virtual malls to virtual hot baths and online clubbing,
Springwise has seen the field flooded with innovations during the past months. One New Zealand town has opened a virtual mall featuring local and regional businesses to allow people to shop while maintaining social distancing.
It was designed to help local businesses grow their online profiles in order to help the business through the coronavirus lockdowns. More than that, it is New Zealand’s first virtual mall. Customers can choose to shop online by store or product type, and can purchase from several retailers using only one shopping cart.
Likewise, Arima Onsen and Kosugiyu are amongst those public baths that are getting creative, with a virtual experience that recreates the relaxation of the hot springs within the home. To do so, they recorded 20-minute videos from five of its 31 locations and uploaded them to a YouTube channel.
The idea is for viewers to feel like they are in an onsen, and with virtual reality headsets they can enjoy an immersive experience with sounds of running water, falling cherry blossom petals and breeze amongst bamboo stands, all from the comfort of their homes and wherever they are in the world.
Chinese eCommerce company Jingdong (JD.com) has teamed up with Taihe Music Group to offer an online clubbing experience. JD is hosting a weekly, three-hour live-streamed show. During the show, brands such as Budweiser, Rémy Martin, Carlsberg and Pernod Ricard promote their beverages to an online audience. Viewers have the opportunity to order the advertised products from JD during the show.
The company has reported that the shows are a success both for viewers and brands, with one brand reporting a 70 per cent increase in the sale of its whiskey products during the show. JD has announced that this is a long-term project, and the company plans to create live-streaming marketing opportunities for additional categories besides liquor in the future.
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4. Consumer convenience ‘picks up’
As many stores remain shut to try to curb the spread of COVID-19, the number of orders placed online and picked up at brick-and-mortar stores surged 208 per cent between April 1 and April 20 compared with a year ago, according to data pulled from Adobe Analytics.
Curbside pickup trend was already well underway before the pandemic started but is likely to accelerate over the next few years.
For example, Starbucks announced it will close up to 400 company-operated traditional cafes in North America over the next year and plans to open 30 “convenience-led” stores where there will be no seating for customers inside. The store experiences will be powered by the Starbucks App to order and pay ahead. Mobile Order & Pay channels will be open for ordering and customers will need to order ahead to pick up through curbside or the entryway.
Springwise has also seen other brands pushing the use of apps to improve the shopping experience during the pandemic. Fairway Markets in New York ramped up the promotion of its skip-checkout app, which helped customers avoid long queues and bolstered social-distancing efforts. Another grocery chain, Lidl, launched a WhatsApp chatbot in Ireland, with which customers are able to learn when the store is least crowded.
5. Growing demand for supply chain transparency
In a post-COVID world, customers will be more conscious of where products are sourced from and retailers will need to be more transparent about their global supply chains.
ViJi offers a website plugin that allows customers to click on an icon to instantly see information about traceability, social and environmental responsibility at different stages of production for a given item. Consumers can also scan a product barcode to access information about the product.
Similarly, Oritain uses a variety of methods to verify supply chains and provide proof of origin. For example, they have built a comprehensive global library of cotton varieties, so they know exactly what US, Australian or Chinese cotton looks like.
French app My Label identifies products that meet your values, making it easier for shoppers to find sustainable goods and influence producers. A 2018 global survey found that 63 per cent of consumers prefer buying from companies that share their values.
My Label promises to make finding these companies as easy as scanning a product label, potentially setting a precedent for consumers expressing their values at the checkout lane. The app allows consumers to select from 20 criteria, including environmental, social and health factors — for instance, you can ask My Label to alert you if there is palm oil in a product. The app can also flag up products from companies that pay a fair wage.
6. D.I.Y. replaces some traditional services
After having to hunker down in our homes, the coronavirus has made us all very handy. Not only did it allow people to take on those D.I.Y. projects they had been putting off, but it also forced people to take matters into their own hands that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
For example, a bakery that was put out of business during the coronavirus lockdown has reopened as an eCommerce site, selling bread-making kits to legions of new home bakers, and a tech entrepreneur has even created a website that is connecting people to professional barbers to provide guidance through a haircut session at home.
Likewise, inspired by the millions of manicure enthusiasts forced to hunker down during the coronavirus pandemic, Maggie Fu, a Shanghai-based make-up artist and beauty influencer, has created a stick-on, DIY manicure kit. Customers will require no previous skills to apply them.
7. Social eCommerce and harmonized shopping
Whilst social distancing was expected to feel “distant”, many have felt more connected than ever, as inboxes are flooded with invitations to online events.
It started with Skype calls from friends and family and a couple of dozen texts from hyperactive messaging platforms. This slowly evolved into Instagram DMS trading home-made recipes and neighbours sharing tips and supplies over WhatsApp support groups. Now, V.R headsets even allow you to share experiences with a couple of strangers.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a huge growth in social eCommerce, led by Chinese apps like Panduoduo. This platform allows people to group up, and shop at a discount.
Now, a browser extension called Squadded Shopping Party hopes to bring this lucrative concept to western countries. Squadded works by allowing users to connect with groups of friends and go online shopping together, chatting through the extension as they virtually try on different outfits or discuss items. Once installed, users can go to participating sites and browse. The platform allows users to add items to a wish list, poll friends for advice and see what other users are buying.
Written By: Katrina Lane
6th July 2020