The UK High Street has seen many retailers disappear since 2020, with Covid-19 being a leading factor. Non-essential retailers were particularly impacted by the imposition of lockdown restrictions and social distancing, in turn leading to many changes in the goods and services we consume, with some areas of retail faring worse than others. The number of empty shops on high streets, retail parks and shopping centres has increased in the past three months (July 2021). The British Retail Consortium and the Local Data Company found that fashion retailers, struggling with online competition, had been hit hardest.
The rise of e-commerce, however, did not happen overnight; many of them were already struggling prior to the pandemic. In the past twenty years, large retailers were slow to adapt to the changing practices of how consumers shop. The adoption of new technological solutions in retail has accelerated in the past year. Businesses have had to make their in-store experiences even more extraordinary for those who can or want to visit in person. Now more than ever, the traditional brick and mortar shop has to give people a reason to visit that is so compelling, it overcomes the inertia of the behaviours they adopted during the lockdowns.
Even the tradition-bound tailors of Savile Row are accepting the challenge, such as Huntsman who are now gently embracing technology by using simple ‘robotics’ for the measurements of their clients thousand miles away. IKEA has introduced their Place app with the help of Augmented Reality, which enables customers to seamlessly move between the physical and digital landscapes.
The pandemic has also upended a marketer’s playbook. The EY Future Consumer Index, which has conducted five waves of research with 14,500 individuals in 20 countries since the start of the pandemic, has identified five different cohorts of consumers:
- Affordability first (32% of consumers): Living within their means and budget, focusing less on brands and more on product functionality.
- Health first (25%): Protecting their health and that of their family, choosing products they trust to be safe and minimising risks in the way that they shop.
- Planet first (16%): Trying to minimise their impact on the environment and buying brands that reflect their beliefs.
- Society first (15%): Working together for the greater good, buying from organisations they find to be honest and transparent.
- Experience first (12%): Living in the moment to make the most of life, often making them open to new products, brands, and experiences.
The pandemic has challenged the existing rules about customer relationships and building brands. One year in, there’s no turning back.
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