Seven post Covid-19 retail trends. Peter Scott retail consultant at Graystone Strategy looks at the way retail is adapting to the new challenges of 2020

The pandemic’s impact on retail is stark. But as with all crises, hope rises from the ashes. Here we look at the trends we’ll see emerge in the next 12 months to keep retail alive.

  1. The customer mindset has changed and that brings opportunity. Put simply, if you weren’t able to trade online you will have suffered greatly in the last few months. Many consumers discovered online shopping for the first time in lockdown. In particular, an older demographic started to buy their weekly shop online. Food shifted from 20% of supermarket sales to 50%.

 And while people have become more open to buying in a different way they’ve also considered buying things they would only ever go to a shop for such as bedding plants from garden centres. There has also been a surge in ‘indoor activity’. Sales of books, craft kits and puzzles have leapt up. Many of the businesses providing these items have seen sales more than double compared to last year.

  1. Customer data and segmentation need a rethink. The traditional methods for segmentation were starting to become irrelevant, but now they really need a rethink. Life has fundamentally changed for some people you’d have expected to behave in a certain way. They perhaps don’t have the income, have decided they want a simpler life, or are going green.

So, you can’t assume one postcode will buy in the same way. Or that a 50 year old has nothing in common with a 25 year old. Lockdown has shone a light on this segmentation bias. Now it’s about attitude and retailers need to turn their use of data on its head and seek out the new opportunities. For instance, fashion retailers could take stock of their values and become a more sustainable business in line with new attitudes.

  1. Digital has to take centre stage. The factors above have presented two challenges for retailers. Firstly, for the physical retailers they’ve realised they need to get into digital and fast, if they weren’t already doing it, or do it properly i.e. go beyond just having a website.

Victoria’s Secret is a sorry example of what happens when you don’t have a local website and ship from the US. A local supply chain and localised website are imperative. As is having very distinct product lines and a way to find them, not to mention a short check out process. Above all, retailers now need a joined up digital strategy by which I mean they have to be able to sell, support and inspire customers.

And for the digital retailers, the challenge is how they retain the new customers they have gained during Covid-19. This is especially true if the physical retailers catch up and take advantage of a clean slate from which to build an online store.

  1. Loyalty schemes need a makeover. Retailers have to rethink loyalty programmes to reflect how people have moved on from where they were in March. Just giving money off and other benefits from like-minded brands will not be enough in the new world.

Some retailers have been brilliant at communicating with customers throughout the pandemic and have done some really innovative things, which customers will remember. refurbished hospital staff rooms throughout the pandemic and Zara recognised that the beach photography it had for Spring/Summer campaigns wasn’t relevant so quickly shipped clothes to models so they could photograph themselves wearing them in their homes.

That quick thinking inspires purchases and breeds loyalty so the focus has to be on how to harness that loyalty in the future.

  1. New technology now has a place. You can’t use a changing room to try on a top so how do you still give people an experience? We’re likely to see much earlier adoption of virtual and augmented reality to answer this question. Visualising yourself in an item of clothing, seeing how a sofa can fit into your room and in different colours will be of great interest now. And consumers have shown they are ready to change their ways if the experience is good. It’s not just about fun it’s also about ease. So, expect to see the development of apps to support this experience.


  1. Theatrical experiences are a must. Selfridges showed us how it’s done when it gave the first shoppers bouquets of flowers and put on side shows to entertain people returning to shop. It openly said it would make shopping ‘joyful’.

But this is a much harder challenge for most physical retailers not used to thinking this way. But it’s a mindset that’s needed. Shopping will be full of restriction so moments of fun will make a difference to how people fell about your brand.

In many cases, store layouts are prohibitive to social distancing and the general atmosphere on the high street also pose problems. If you are surrounded by empty stores as a consequence of chains and independents going out of business, you not only have to make your shop attractive but the high street a destination too. It’s going to take time to understand your product line up, service options and processes to overcome the obstacles. But it has to be done with urgency, which is why it’s so important to ensure you understand your customers to you get it right first time.

  1. Subscription models are more important than ever. A busy lifestyle has been the driving force for subscriptions – a convenient way to change your habits such as to cook and eat healthy food or buy more sustainable products. These models have used online to their advantage to bring continuous revenue, and early adopters appreciated the convenience, service and speed, as well as the access to things they couldn’t get on the high street.

Lockdown has sparked more innovations. Independent shops had to shift the way they sold to find their customers. Now things like weekly, carefully curated craft beer deliveries are normal. We’ll start to see bigger brands follow, not just with subscription deliveries but also hiring models.

Why buy a hedge trimmer to cut the hedge a few times a year, or buy a new wardrobe when you don’t have many places to wear it when could borrow one? Hirestreet is leading on this in fashion but H&M is now jumping on the trend. I think we’ll see more of this across all sectors.

Making all this happen is hard. For some retailers they will need to reinvent their brand, their supply chain and the entire fabric of their company culture and brand purpose. That needs bravery and leadership. But if you know your customers well, identify the new opportunities, and select products and services that will drive loyalty then you have a real chance to succeed.

If you need help with this then please get in touch, we would be happy to help you work through your new strategy.

Peter Scott

About Peter Scott

Peter brings over 35 years Retail and Ecommerce leadership experience, recently holding Managing Director roles in International Plc. and Fortune 500 companies. He has worked across a diverse portfolio of businesses including FMCG, Telecoms and Communications, Electronics, Department Stores and Apparel Multiples in the UK, US and Ireland. Peter consults on retail, e-commerce, vendor and commercial strategies.