Retail in a Post-Pandemic World

March 30, 2020 (press release) –

The retail industry was already undergoing a seismic shift when the coronavirus epidemic hit. As more consumers opted to shop online, retailers had been “rightsizing” store footprints and beefing up online operations to adapt. 

But now, with many “nonessential” retailers forced to temporarily close their stores during this international emergency, companies that were struggling have little, if any, margin of error remaining. 

Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears, Neiman Marcus, Gap and GameStop are among numerous struggling retailers likely to be particularly hurt by the sudden stoppage of commerce, as their turnaround plans have run into a wall. 

The US physical retailers benefitting from the outbreak, chiefly supermarket chains, drugstore chains, dollar stores and Walmart, Target and Costco, are confronting their own sets of issues as a result of overwhelming demand. Many are seeking thousands of new employees to help with the onslaught, while current employees report being overworked, sick and unable to stay home, and working in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. 

Already, major US chains, including Publix, Kroger and 7-Eleven, are installing plexiglass “sneeze guards” chainwide at checkout stands to protect workers and customers. 

Amazon and grocery-delivery services such as Instacart and Shipt are similarly inundated, with delivery delays of weeks not uncommon. Amazon in recent days has announced it will overhaul operations to ship only essential items—groceries and hygiene items chief among them. 

If, as experts expect, these changes persist for weeks or months, consumers and retailers will be adapting to a changed world. Some habits consumers form during this time may become permanent, forcing retailers to make even more accommodations. 

Some things we are likely to see more of or are already seeing:

•    More self-checkout stands at more stores.
•    More contactless payment options at more stores. This could include app-based payments or any other option that allows consumers to avoid touching keypads.
•    More contactless delivery options.
•    More services such as Target Drive-Up that allow consumers to pick up items without entering a store.
•    Enforcement of maximum people allowed in a store at one time.
•    More e-receipts.
•    One-way store aisles to allow for greater social distancing.
•    Floor markers in checkout lines to indicate proper spacing between customers. 
•    Growing interest in cashierless/unstaffed stores, which Amazon is already pioneering with its handful of AmazonGo convenience stores. (Amazon recently announced it would license its cashierless-store technology to other retailers.) 
•    Among non-grocery retailers, expect hand-sanitizing wipes and washing stations to become ubiquitous at places like Home Depot, Old Navy and Ikea. 
•    Shoppers donned in masks and/or gloves may become commonplace.

The move to online retail will accelerate as the pandemic wears on. But the fallout is already starting. Amazon’s warehouse workers, who fulfill online orders, were already pushed to their limits before the appearance of COVID-19. Now, they’re working harder than ever, and an increasing number are getting sick. Down the supply chain, the same is happening with semi-truck and delivery drivers. 

E-commerce is already on its way to become increasingly automated, in the form of robotic warehouses to fulfill online orders and autonomous package-delivery vans. With this pandemic, and the possibility of more to come, e-retailers will no doubt recognize the urgency of moving even more quickly to having machines replace humans. Robots and driverless vehicles don’t need time off, benefits and rest breaks, will never go on strike, can comfortably work around the clock—and cannot contract infectious diseases.

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Cindy is the Retail, Logistics and Supply Chain and Pet Care editor at Industry Intelligence. We invite you to take a look at our online services. Please contact us at ClientCare@IndustryIntel.com and ask us about our coronavirus IMPACT report.  
 

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