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Retail in the Times of COVID-19

The last few months have been extremely taxing for various industries, including retail. The global pandemic of COVID-19 has led to substantial changes in the retail landscape across the globe and accelerated problems for various enterprises, big or small. Names like Aldo, Reitmans and Pier One Imports filed for bankruptcy while the likes of Canada Goose laid off a hefty number of employees. While declaring that the province is in recession, Ontario’s Finance Minister Rod Phillis mentioned that the province lost nearly 1.2 million jobs from February to May. Such massive layoffs left people with no desire or budget to go shopping. The situation certainly pushed a lot of businesses into stringent times- bars, theatres, malls were closed, restaurants and coffee shops only offered take out and delivery options. Clothing brands suffered significant setbacks, because leisure shopping was certainly the last thing on people’s minds.

With work from home becoming the norm, ‘Formal Dressing’ is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Hence it makes sense that traditional office wear retailers in the US like the Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank, Brooks Brothers, Lord & Taylor, Ann Taylor, Loft and Neiman Marcus are filing for bankruptcy. While there certainly is a lot of doubt in the market, but it is not just bad news. The businesses that were able to make it through these taxing times and are optimistic right now are the ones who were steadfast in rethinking their
business models and were able to devise strategies to give the customers an interactive yet safe shopping experience. Some sectors like grocery stores, convenience stores, home improvement chains and auto and marine services became stronger.

Technology proved to be a trusted ally for many business units and will continue to do so moving forward. E-Commerce emerged as the way forward and can be the answer that retailers are looking for. So, it comes as no surprise that Hugo Boss recently launched its first dedicated website for Canadian shoppers.

Not just limited to shopping online, a lot of retailers further enhanced the experience with curb-side pickup appointments and same day delivery of essentials (which is likely to become the biggest retail battle of our times). And if industry insiders are to be believed, this might just be the way forward. A lot of people are looking for products online at company websites and going in stores just to pick them up. Business owners are also experimenting with their digital platforms by integrating social media, posting vlogs, and even using augmented reality and artificial intelligence to enhance the shopping experience.

The next time a customer wants to buy a shade of eye shadow, there is no need to physically try it on. Technology will help decide what suits their needs the best! Enhanced cleaning regimes, safety measures like offering masks, gloves and hand sanitizers to the customers and quarantining tried or returned products is another significant step that can restore customer confidence in shopping. This is a paradigm shift, since the traditional shopping experience will be absent and the ‘browsing’ abilities of buyers will decrease. But the businesses emerging from chaos with confidence will be the those that offer a mix of personalized experience and technology to their buyers.

Archna Walia has more than 11 years of experience in content creation as a content writer, journalist, and assistant professor of undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Journalism and Mass Communication. She holds a Masters Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. Her key interests include researching, interacting with people, conducting interviews and writing crisp copy.