Is it Time to Bring Back Physical Retail?


The Covid 19 pandemic saw a major shift in the retail landscape with most businesses embracing ecommerce as a means to survive.

In the UK, ecommerce sales shot up from below 20% to over 32% within the first three months of the pandemic. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), about 50 stores closed down each day.

In Hong Kong, the situation seems to be even grimmer given that the retail economy has taken a hit from multiple factors. From the protests to the effects of the pandemic and super cold winter that has also affected the tourism sector, a major driver of the retail sector.

As more people take advantage of convenience shopping, the future of retail as we know it seems to be uncertain. It is expected that more consumers will stick to ecommerce post-pandemic. Even then, this is all speculative. The die has not been cast; as governments across the world race against time to vaccinate their populations, it is time for retailers to explore innovative ways to attract customers by creating experiences that will also reinforce post-pandemic shopping habits.

Here are some of the strategies retailers can use to bring back retail, drive sales and reclaim markets:

  • Explore short-term leases

For businesses that have not recorded any business during this harsh economic period, short term leases could be the key to unlocking a new market. While it has been known to observe high rent rates, the switch to shop rental in Hong Kong on a temporary basis will certainly be a game changer. Think about it, if you have businesses paying a fraction of the amounts they’d normally pay in rent while making significant sales will see a growth in physical retail as much as it will fuel ecommerce. Retailers can use shops to test ground breaking innovations that will define the new era of business such as contactless payment long after the pandemic is gone. This strategy will also help to build confidence in physical retail drawing customers back to physical shopping.

  • Emphasize on innovative customer experience

One of the major drivers of retail is customer experience. As such, retailers can leverage customer satisfaction to drive numbers to physical retail as it previously was. Brands can begin by offering innovative customer experiences by testing the efficiency of in-store safety protocols. Even better, offering excellent customer experience will also offer an opportunity to understand the shift in consumer behaviour and how to align your business to tap into the new trends. Remember, at the heart of it, shopping is an emotional experience.

  • Promote exclusivity

With the majority of retail businesses embracing ecommerce, competition is at an all time high. What this means is that it is not just enough to open up a retail store. You need to promote exclusivity by having the one unique thing that sets you apart from the competition to guarantee customer satisfaction and repeat business. When customers can associate your brand with an exclusive product or service, you can capitalize on this exclusive trend to draw in more customers. This could be anything like letting customers book an appointment and attaching them to a specific salesperson that will be available to offer help once they get to the store. This limits physical contact and makes the customer feel valued.

  • Leverage technology

It is not enough to offer excellent customer experience, customers must also use technology to monitor customer behavior. Having access to analytics is essential as it will help to facilitate shopping trends and meet emerging consumer needs. Enabling an omnichannel experience and tapping into a solid marketing strategy will help to have a better understanding of shoppers’ digital footprint with the view of personalizing customer experience.

Now, more than ever, retailers must be proactive in the way they do business to be able to adapt their business models for the post pandemic future. Growing customer awareness as well as adopting new strategies is the key to thriving. Most importantly they must get it right in the new physical presence especially how they use the space to attract and retain customers. They must think beyond the physical exchange of goods as that can be done through online platforms.

Pop up shops give retailers more flexibility to find ways to rise above the challenges of the pandemic to showcase products and build brand loyalty. As a disruptive platform, retailers can use pop ups as a vehicle to bounce back.


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