Business

How Covid-19 could improve future retail

The retail sector won't be the same after it emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, with experts picking a drive for local, sustainably produced goods, "experiential" shopping and flexibility with how they browse, buy and collect products.

Massey University professor Jonathan Elms said retail would likely return to the "Mr Selfridge" days, where the experience of purchasing a product was part of its appeal.

"All frontline staff are trained and know the product, and shoppers trust them so will go back."

"It's all to do with trust and rapport. It's all to do with traceability. It's about supporting local businesses and local communities… I think we'll go back to the Mr Selfridge days of just having a really good experience."

He said retail had already been at a tipping point, before the pandemic, but Covid-19 had sped things up.

"More and more consumers are going to be buying things online that they were a bit hesitant to do before.

"I think as well, in terms of the extent of globalisation, we're going to be a lot more localised, nationalised, in the sense of our supply chains. I don't think we can rely on world trade as heavily as we have done in the past, so that's a major sea change."

He said retailers that thrived in the long-term would be the ones that customers consciously chose to go to - and it would not necessarily be just about price.

"There's always going to be a place for the hard discounters but there's only ever one company that can compete just on price, because it'll just be a race to the bottom.

"Everybody else has got to play differently, everybody else has got to be quite unique and offer something palatable to consumers, which is different than what everybody else is offering.

"I think if retailers are able to play on their strengths and deliver something which is needed, as well as authentic to consumers, I think they're up for a bit of a winner."

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said demand would be local so towns and cities needed to make sure their CBD's were up for it.

"We are going to see a significant swing towards localism where consumers are keen to support those businesses… but we can't take this for granted. It's vital that we make sure that the city centres and town centers reflect the values of tomorrow's consumers.

"And that's something that we've only got a short amount of time to deliver."

He said the lockdown had forced people away from their traditional consumption habits, resetting what they would want on the other side.

"We've seen how people have embraced walking and cycling and being able to slow down. People have had a lot of time away from their traditional environments and it's forced quite a significant amount of transformational thinking and actions.

"So, people will have different values as they come back into traditional consumer environments."

Wilkinson said a town's main drag needed to account for how people wanted to shop, eat and socialise and success would probably look like pedestrian malls, dining spilling out to the street and a range of products on offer from retailers who know their stuff.

"It's vital that town and city centres become more consumer centric. They have to understand what the audience wants and needs … they need to be the ones that are responding.

"This doesn't happen by accident. You have to have a commercial sector and councils, everyone working in the same direction. There is no point giving lip service to this because there's an urgency right now."

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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