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These Shopper Anxieties Might Dictate Retail’s Post-Covid Future

It’s no secret that the Covid crisis has changed the way shoppers feel about just about everything. Their goals, priorities and fears have been shaped and sharpened over the past six months—and that means retailers must evolve to meet new expectations in a post-pandemic world.

Trend forecaster WGSN says the next 18-24 months will prove “critical” to businesses braving the 2020 storm. “A renewed outlook on resilience planning will be essential to recession-proof your business,” WGSN said.

Consumers have undergone a complete value shift, the trend analysis group claimed, and five factors have risen to the top of their current concerns. Financial anxiety, health woes, loneliness, fears about safety and a desire for truth and transparency in a chaotic world are driving shoppers’ choices this year.

In order to assuage consumers’ doubts and fears, brands must reposition themselves to address these issues head on, WGSN said. Adding value, delivering wellness, promoting togetherness, offering comfort and reassurance, and of course, building trust are among the strategies outlined by the group in its white paper highlighting recession-proof strategies in a post-Covid world.

According to WGSN, the concept of adding value to shoppers’ lives isn’t totally price-dependent. Instead, fashion players should prioritize function and versatility, it added, as consumers look to do more with less in the coming months through “the time-honoured ethos of making do and mending.”

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Data from Pinterest revealed that searches for “self-care at home” increased 332 percent during April alone, as shoppers looked to workout routines and grounding mental health practices as a means of promoting wellness. WGSN believes that athleisure and active styles will continue to be important categories to shoppers as they remain, for the most part, socially restricted.

Loneliness has become a pervasive issue during this period, as consumers have been isolated from coworkers, family and friends. It has also been “driven by the switch from physical to digital connectivity,” WGSN said, resulting in “an increasingly desynchronised society.” In order to promote the feeling of togetherness, brands should look to create a sense of community. This doesn’t mean treating shoppers like they’re in a focus group, though. Rather, brands should solicit their input as co-designers whose insights truly matter.

Apparel brands should also invest in science-based technologies that offer shoppers protection from the forces they fear. “In a socially distanced world, clothing has the capacity to become a new form of armor, offering reassurance for those venturing out,” analysts said. Anti-microbial and anti-viral innovations have seen growth over the course of the pandemic, and could play an essential role in apparel for years to come.

Shoppers are also becoming increasingly unwilling to patronize brands they feel they can’t trust. “Covid-19 has been a catalyst for change in the fashion sector,” WGSN said, “and transparency and trust have moved beyond marketing concepts to become a genuine and necessary focus for companies.”

Meanwhile, global investment firm KKR’s latest report on Covid’s long-term impact on cities and consumers reveals that three key themes could play a part in shaping a post-pandemic society.

The concept of dispersion, or the movement of economic activity beyond just a few gateway cities to other metropolitan hubs, could lead to economic growth in mid-sized cities, says Paula Campbell Roberts, KKR’s director of global macro and asset allocation. “Consumer spending should benefit,” she wrote, though retail in central business districts of the country’s larger cities could face short-term headwinds.

“Essentialism,” or prioritizing only necessary, highly valued risk-taking in light of the spreading virus, will also remain a theme for months to come, she said. “In the context of in-person gatherings, essentialism should thrive,” she wrote, ruling out most holiday parties and the observance of some family traditions this fall. The concept also has implications on retail and business, as less travel and getting together means fewer purchases of non-essential items, like party garb.

Roberts also believes that amid slower consumer spending and a renewed focus on value, shoppers will make deliberate changes to their behavior. They will “bifurcate” their spend among large retailers that offer omnichannel services, delivery capabilities, competitive pricing, and of course, a wealth of options.

But small businesses could also benefit in the long term, she said, by providing specialized products and services not available from larger stores. “We also see tailwinds supporting smaller manufacturers with differentiated products that are difficult to find elsewhere,” she said, “particularly as larger brands scale back on SKUs.”

Unfortunately, mid-size retailers could be left in the dust if Roberts’ projections ring true. If they don’t provide “a differentiated value proposition, product or service experience,” consumers are likely to opt for ultra-convenient big boxes or DTCs that provide curated, specialized offerings.