The COVID-19 crisis has hit the retail sector hard. And it will continue to as we find our way through the weeks and months to come. Whilst it would be naïve to suggest that everything will be rosy, there are reasons to be cheerful – not least an opportunity to re-evaluate what ‘bricks and mortar’ stores are for.

Lockdown has shown that people have really missed popping to the shops. Brits value the experience in a way that online shopping can’t replace. It’s more than just the products that people take home – it’s also the act of shopping in itself that people enjoy. The High Street is a destination, a community hub, a social occasion, and a form of entertainment in its own right.

The essential retail experience during lockdown tells us that people will make fewer shopping trips and spend more per trip than pre-crisis. With this in mind, the winners in the months to come will be retailers who have the strongest brands, clear promotions, a community presence, and those who understand the importance of the shop as a destination.

So, what to do? Firstly, in addition to always-important national campaigns – brand and activation, don’t lurch too hard into short-term trading. Retailers should also look to take a store-by-store local marketing approach too, across traditional and digital channels.

Secondly, as stores have reopened, provision for social distancing has forced retailers to reconsider the shop floor. This is likely to be the ‘new normal’ for some time, so while things are a little skew-whiff, it also makes sense to consider how to deliver an experience beyond convenience. In a recent survey by Raydiant, 85% of retailers say that creating in-store experiences will be critical to their success in reopening. This is where national chains can learn from independents and mirror their skill at curating places where people want to spend a bit of time.

Whether it’s independent bike shops with their espresso machines, or vintage clothing stores where the act of browsing is part of the fun, understanding that people often want more than just a product in their hand is going to be key.

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