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2020 Holiday Preview: What Lingers From the Pandemic?

People waiting in the queue outside pharmacy with social distancing

In January, China plunged into enforced hibernation, and rapidly, other countries followed suit. From East to West, the virus spread and as some in the West went into lockdown, others in the East gradually emerged, blinking into the light.

And as they did so, the talk was not just of the easing of lockdowns but of the fear of another wave later in the year. When we enter the holiday season, for retailers still coming to terms with the new normal, success will be more important than ever.

Even now, we’re already seeing the cancellation of typical holiday activities due to looming uncertainty. The next few weeks will provide a barometer of what retailers can expect. And there’s a trend emerging as each country grapples with a radically different future.

A new customer experience

As retail begins to reopen in various stages globally, we’re witnessing a huge spike in consumerism caused by two things: luxury items with which to pamper ourselves and the sale of the century.

But here’s the catch: Those aren’t sustainable trends. After such initial surges, levels of consumption revert as consumers realize they can’t afford to spend or don’t need to spend.

Coupled with that reality, for those tired of staring at the same four walls, spending on an eventual holiday might sound preferable to a new widescreen television or outfit.

But even more than that … physical retail is all about the senses, including smell, taste and touch. In this new world, we don’t allow touching, trying on and sampling — redefining the customer experience.

So, if retailers remove all the traditional elements of customer experience, what — other than discounts — brings us back to stores?

“When we enter the holiday season, for retailers still coming to terms with the new normal, success will be more important than ever.”

A new brand of retail

Retail will need to come to us. The surge in online transactions is the clearest case in point, and as we know, a large percentage of those new online orders are likely to remain online.

But as humans, as witnessed by the scenes of lines outside restaurants and furniture stores, we crave a return to some sort of normalcy. We have a strong desire to regain that with which we felt familiar.

And this will in turn drive a new type of socially distanced retail experience, one where space and the use of space becomes ever more important. An established fact that the virus is most dangerous indoors, expect to see more and more retail operations move outside.

This will require new types of city and town planning to pedestrianize far more streets, open up wider pedestrian walkways and introduce more outdoor markets. And in this way, the legacy of the pandemic will be a cleaner, more social town and city center, one where socially distanced interactions persist above all else.

Yes, the holiday season is almost certainly going to bring about a new style of consumption, but perhaps this will enhance the experience in the long run.

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Longitudes explores and navigates the trends reshaping the global economy and the way we’ll live in the world of tomorrow: logistics, technology, e-commerce, trade and sustainability. Which path will you take?

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