Even before the pandemic, the retail landscape was shifting away from in-person buying to online purchasing as consumer familiarity with and confidence in the internet marketplace grew. Now reliance on that shopping model has been ramped up under COVID-19 protocols, and retailers have responded with additional conveniences, ranging from in-store or curbside pickup to delivery services and membership perks. Here’s a look at five retail habits that have blossomed during the COVID shutdown and are likely to continue:
Reimagined Black Friday
Amazon may have taken the lead these past few years, pushing up shoppers’ holiday buying with its mid-summer Prime Day shopping event, but the pandemic has now gotten every retailer rethinking their approach to the all-important fourth quarter. Holiday events began in October, which was when Amazon hosted Prime Day this year, and have been spaced out over the following months with weekly specials and promotions to accommodate social distancing, wallet-conscious shoppers and inventory issues. Likewise, major retailers from Target and Walmart to Kohl’s and Macy’s decided to close their doors on Thanksgiving, taking some of the air out of the buying frenzy that marked the traditional Black Friday.
Reuse, recycle, recommerce
The push to recycle has been one-upped by the adoption of recommerce—a format under which producers or retailers take back merchandise and clean and refurbish it for resale. Textile brand Coyuchi launched an initiative in 2019 under which it takes back products from its subscription program and, working with The Renewal Workshop, cleans, mends and then resells products under the 2nd Home label. Pottery Barn also began working with The Renewal Workshop this year on a similar program for its home textiles, and eBay recently announced a Certified Refurbished program that sells like-new home appliances from name brands including KitchenAid, De’Longhi, Cuisinart, Ninja, Black + Decker, Bissell, Hoover and more. Also in October, furniture brand Ikea put forth its plan for a limited buy-back of its assembled furniture that it will sell as pre-owned. It’s a concept that is catching on as consumers, especially Millennials, seek more sustainable options.
Join the club
It’s hardly a new concept, but membership/loyalty programs have reemerged as a major marketing tool among retailers. With the rise of e-commerce and find-the-best-deal mentality, retailers are looking for additional ways to capture and hold on to customers. The two big guys—Amazon and Walmart—are now duking it out in this category. Amazon Prime lures customers with free shipping, access to special deals and its entertainment channel, while the newer Walmart+ offers unlimited free deliveries on purchases of $35 or more, gasoline discounts and streamlined in-store checkout. But they aren’t alone. Retailers of all sizes and in all categories have embraced this concept, ranging from the traditional wholesale clubs—Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club that offer discounts with membership—to those providing credit card perks like Target’s RedCard, which offers 5% savings on purchases, and Kohl’s Rewards, which earns Kohl’s Cash for its credit card holders.
Come and get it
With shoppers leery of heading into stores to make purchases, the nascent concepts of buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) and curbside pick-up have taken on a sense of urgency since March, when many retailers scrambled to get their programs up and running more quickly than they had planned. One demographic driving this has been Baby Boomers, who fall into the higher risk category for COVID-19. According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Spring Consumer View study, 45% of Boomers said they’d shopped online more during the pandemic, six in 10 were aware of BOPIS and two-thirds had tried it. The breakdown for pickup was 58% in the store and 30% curbside. Also in the NRF spring study, more than three-quarters of consumers said they were interested in BOPIS and more than 90 percent of those who have tried it said curbside was convenient. The degree to which these two offerings continue beyond the pandemic will be dependent on cost effectiveness for retailers and continued demand from consumers, according to another NRF article.
Brought to you by…
To paraphrase the rock group Queen, consumers “want it all … and they want it now.” And that has never been more evident than during the pandemic. Next-day and same-day delivery expanded to more retailers in response to the pandemic, with some using vendors such as Shipt, DoorDash or Instacart to facilitate the delivery. Home retailers like At Home rolled out next-day delivery for online and phone orders, driven by a desire to accommodate shoppers during the pandemic, but acknowledged that it is also part of its long-term vision. The list of retailers with same-day services grew steadily to encompass Amazon, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Big Lots, Sur La Table and more, although geographical restrictions often apply. An NRF article in April pointed out that the pandemic also has created an environment that could embrace autonomous delivery using drones and robots. Many retailers, including Amazon, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Kroger have been testing it.