Much of these articles has been about projecting the possibilities of the future of retail. While some of these ideas might sound far-fetched, most of them have been based on trends already emerging well before any changes we experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact this virus brings to retail, will not be unforeseen, just unforeseen in time. Trends already being cultivated, have been catapulted forward into relevance and have been developed at an unprecedented speed.
The nature of retail has already evolved right beneath our eyes. The consumer doesn't distinguish between different parts of omni-channel or integrated retail – it's all one channel. Retail is now following branding – it's everywhere, and its many things. Retail extends far beyond physical stores and online websites. Retail has even extended far beyond just purchasing products to involve transformational experiences. Everything is merging together to become a new paradigm of many things - consumption, experiences, purchasing and immersive storytelling. In the emerging world, brands will need to engage all the senses and communicate through many dimensions.
Regardless of how we define retail, the importance of physical interactions has never been so obvious. Our two months in social isolation has shown us the importance of people, place and time. There is no better medium than the physical store to engage all the senses and immerse someone in the moment, and the pinnacle of retail experiences - escapism; forgetting what else exists outside of our present experience is what we need to drive towards. This is the 'retail therapy' we need and have missed most. The quest of retailers to become more efficient, frictionless or convenient has made us lose sight of retails greatest asset. Retail doesn't have to be associated solely with consumerism and mass production, it can be a quintessential social activity where we learn, relax, connect or escape. Retail can provide this without manufacturing endless goods or encouraging needless consumer purchases; it can exist in a more ethical and sustainable world if we want it to. We always react to how the world presents itself to us. We rarely get an opportunity to shape it the way we want it to be. The COVID-19 pandemic may be that opportunity that retail has been waiting for.