This week, retailers in the UK have been readying their stores for Monday’s reopening after a months-long lockdown. In the US, retail has already reopened across the country. But as governments in key Western markets ease Covid restrictions in response to falling infection rates, luring consumers back to physical stores may not be easy. While recent traffic to fashion retailers in the US is way up over last year, it’s still significantly behind 2019 levels.
According to psychologists, it takes an average of two months for people to form new habits. More than a year into the pandemic, it’s safe to say that the shift to e-commerce has resulted in new digital habits that shoppers are unlikely to unlearn just because stores reopen.
Also liable to linger are the traumas associated with crowds of people and touching things. And while continued virus containment measures, from mask-wearing to social distancing, help to mitigate these fears, they also detract from the full physical shopping experience.
At the same time, the work-from-home revolution means many people no longer commute to city centres where fashion retailers tend to be located in the first place and with international travel still largely grounded, tourist traffic will be sorely missed.
But underlying these factors is an even deeper question that the pandemic has made more urgent than ever: what is the purpose of a physical store in the digital age, anyway?