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Is this the end of retail stores?

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

2020 has been a year of unexpected events (to say the least) and the retail industry has taken a massive hit along with many other industries. First it was BREXIT and now COVID-19, could this be the end of retail stores as we know it and what should new brands do?

Why do people visit retail stores in the first place? 

The obvious answer is to buy clothes, but it’s actually much more than that. Shopping is about the experience; the experience of browsing through rails of clothes, being able to feel the material and try before you buy. The setting and smell of the store can also have an impact on your experience as well, for example the famous Hollister store has beachy decor with dimmed lighting and usually smells of one of their body sprays (some might say a bit overpowering). All of these factors help to reflect their clothes and inspire people to buy them. These days, thanks to technology, you can really WOW a customer when they visit your store. 

What’s changed?

Yet with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the sudden lockdown of life and the economy, retail stores have had to adapt to survive. And this adaptation may mean moving to online only. Retail stores come with a lot of costs, including rent, overheads and labour. But take away all of this to just online and you suddenly shrink your costs. Plus, with the social distancing rules and other restrictions being put in place, it may be harder for shops (especially smaller ones) to justify opening as they just won’t get the footfall and therefore sales. Even though some are starting to re-open, consumers are very much still in the wary stage of re-entering society and being amongst crowds of other people. This forces a change in strategy as brands can no longer rely on physical stores as their primary source of selling and income. 

What should new brands do?

Online is the clear winner here. Brands need to be resilient and having an online presence is the best way to ensure this. Selling online requires you to set up a website and email, organise a place to store your clothes and arrange a delivery method. Compared to a physical store which requires finding a location to rent, organising all your overheads, employing staff to run the shop, purchase a point-of-sale system, hangers, rails, shopping bags and the list goes on… Here you can clearly see that online is the easier and cheaper option. 

You can still have a physical presence, but in the form of pop-up shops or convenience shopping occasions. For instance, if you’re an activewear brand you could organise a pop-up event in a local coffee shop. Now you might be thinking a coffee shop isn’t the first place that springs to mind, but you’ve now got to think about where and why your customers will be visiting physical stores. Food and drink will always be a booming industry as people are drawn to convenience and will always be hungry/thirsty, so take your clothes to them instead of them coming to you. Pop-ups are usually also for a limited time only, which is great to test out whether it actually works and avoid being tied down to a long contract or regular rent payments. 

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