By Andy Peterson
Retail is an ancient art. Retail activities that are thousands of years old have been discovered by historians. Goods back then were fairly essential – animals, grains, tools of sorts, and a million other things various cultures used to survive. In North America’s short history, it was the retailer who provided the goods needed to survive and thrive, and, more often than not, retailers were the most successful people in a town or region. For example, during the California Gold Rush retailers were the most stable, trustworthy, and prosperous. Retail throughout history has been the cultural glue which lubricated the economy and held cultures together.
Today, in some of the most uncertain times many of us have ever experienced, retail has come through once again. Retail held up during the pandemic of 2020. There were a few shortages – toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning supplies come to mind – but, for the most part, consumers could procure most anything they wanted when great swathes of the country went into lockdown. Soon after the lockdowns eased even the most picked over shelves were once again full. Retail held up.
As the new year unfolds, we will return to normal even though normal may take some time. This, as we all know, is due to scientists who rapidly developed a vaccine. Once a sufficient number of people get vaccinated, normal is sure to return. Scientists, government officials, economists, and those involved in the rollout, all predict mid-summer as the point we can consider things to be “back to normal.”
However, retail may have already been “back to normal” long before. Retailers were forced to quickly figure out how to make things work in the face of uncertainty. Obviously, those who adapted quickly did much better than those who didn’t. Some trends which helped included omnichannel integration wherein a seamlessness evolved between online presence and brick and mortar. Omnichannel is likely to remain past the pandemic and seem normal to all involved. Another trend which seemingly thrived during the pandemic has been direct to consumer marketing. Old and new brands took advantage of the trend and consumers saw the brands show up in social media outlets bypassing both online and brick and mortar outlets all together – we can expect the trend to remain in some form. Black Friday, however, was likely the event most impacted as a result of the pandemic. Retailers knew they wouldn’t expect door crushing consumers to fill baskets before the sun rose. As a result, retailers extended Black Friday into a month-long event. Much of it was online but some was in-store. Consumers were able to leisurely compare prices and products and pick those items up curbside, have them delivered, or have them shipped directly to recipients. The jury is still out as to the final Black Friday numbers, but judging by numbers from the National Retail Association results will be respectable. Black Friday may have changed forever, and it may, depending upon results, evolve into an expanded holiday shopping event.
Retail has been around for a very long time. Times have changed and 2020 certainly challenged retail, but retail has been around a very long time and we can only expect a stronger retail year in 2021.