What is the New Retail Playbook in a Post-Pandemic World?

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Omnichannel, personalization, sustainability and other operating “imperatives” are more important than ever, according to a new report from RILA.

For retailers, COVID-19 may not have ultimately changed the industry so much as hurdled it several years into the future.

Aside from a new focus on safety and the spread of pathogens, much of that future had been widely predicted throughout the industry in years prior. Preparations were varied at best.

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As stores closed and Americans sheltered in place, the future arrived. Even digital holdouts began shopping online. Curbside — not even a thought for many consumers and store chains — took center stage along with other low-contact fulfillment options. Some companies, such as Target, were ready after years of investment. Others were scraping together solutions on the fly with cardboard signs.

With vaccines rolling out, the biggest question for retail is which changes are permanent (at least to a degree) and which will change again once consumers broadly seek a post-pandemic life.

One of the industry’s largest trade groups, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, set about talking with executives among its member companies to draw up the new rules for operating in 2021 and beyond.

The result was a report from RILA and consulting firm McKinsey that lays out seven “imperatives” for industry players. Four of those the report describes as “familiar to retailers” — a doubling down on omnichannel, personalization, delivery and social concerns such as sustainability.

The others are labeled as “growth” areas that target retailers’ workforce, productivity and costs, and its role in what the authors describe as an “ecosystem,” which might loosely be described as an integrated, data-collecting set of services.

The digital shift is ‘sticky’
The report acts as a potential benchmark for how retailers expect to change alongside their peers. It also suggests that executives have a growing sense of what the new normal of their industry might look like, including after perhaps the biggest shift of 2020 — the pivot to a higher share of digital and omnichannel sales.

“Lots of consumers who were not big fans of online have this newfound love of the convenience, and it’s sticky,” Sajal Kohli, senior partner with McKinsey and one of the report’s authors, said in an interview. Survey data in the report shows…   Retail Dive

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