Over these past few months, many of us have been sheltering in place, working from home, and watching the COVID-19 crisis unfold. Now, as state regulations permit, businesses are beginning to open again, but life is not simply returning to the old normal. Not only has this pandemic affected retail sales in the recent past, it will continue to have an effect in the foreseeable future.
Overall, store closings have set retailers back. In March, retail sales dropped 8.7%, the largest month-to-month decrease since the Census Bureau started tracking the data in 1992. But this overview doesn’t tell the whole story.
The impact seen varies greatly depending not only on the type of retail business but also whether they sell online. According to BigCommerce, Food & Beverage and Gifts & Specialty online sales are up 7.2% and 18.9% respectively, while NPD has reported that the week of March 28, 2020, online beauty sales jumped 47% year-over-year. Although alcoholic beverage sales have spiked significantly, the distribution and type of alcohol being sold has changed enough to upend the liquor industry. And consumer reactions to the pandemic also vary from one generation to the next and between men and women, adding even more flux to the situation.
In recent weeks, online versus in-store sales trends have started to slowly reverse. Stores have begun opening with precautions, but that doesn’t mean sales will automatically jump back to where they were before. As Imogen Matthews asks in Happi, “One of the big questions is where people will want to buy and from whom—is direct contact ever going to re-emerge?” Until that time, retailers will need to continue to be creative as they open locations, offering services such as buy online and pick up in store, no-contact delivery, and appointment shopping.
Although the effects of COVID-19 have and will continue to vary, we have recovered from recessions in the past and expect to again now. The questions in everyone’s mind are, how long will it take, and will this change the shopping environment permanently?