The ‘new normal’ was already here, coronavirus has accelerated its presence

There has been a lot of discussion about what the ‘new normal’ might be in retail, but I believe it's already here. Retail has been slowly transforming from a 19th century transactional format to a 21st century emotional format for years now. The sudden closure of bricks and mortar stores and the overnight necessity for brands to get better at engaging consumers digitally has accelerated this shift. The process has proved to be a timely wake-up call for the many brands who still haven’t mastered the nuanced interplay between the digital and the physical.

The challenge is the industry’s obsession with wanting to target specific consumer groups via specific channels, something that the temporary pivot to digital-only brand communications is highlighting. The mistake here is that consumers, especially younger generations, don’t think in terms of channels. They don’t have a boundary between the virtual and the physical. Instead, whatever they want to do they’ll chose the best way to do it, whether digital or bricks and mortar.

The brands that can offer this kind of fluid experience will be the ones that win once lockdown is over and also in the long-term. Achieving this is all about creating a frictionless environment where experiences and services flow easily back and forth between every aspect of the customer journey, both virtual and physical. The challenge is how to do this at a time when physical touch-points have been temporarily shutdown. What the pandemic is teaching us is that brands need to be using digital to maintain conversations and a top-of-mind presence with their customers and to eventually connect them back towards their brick and mortar experiences once the pandemic passes.

After all, we know that Gen Z prefer physical retail over eCommerce when it comes to shopping for pleasure. As the lockdown eases, consumers will be seeking out pleasure as a relief from the crisis. The in-store experience, if it’s the right one, is where they’ll gravitate to, as we have seen from the ‘revenge shoppers’ in China. 

One brand that’s taking advantage of this consumer fluidity is mobile video start-up Quibi, who recently launched themselves by airing a reality show within the ever popular online videogame, Fortnite. Quibi’s audience are people who have a high digital usage as part of their daily routine. Launching in a virtual world was the most appropriate way for them to reach millions of their audience in one go, and in turn signposts those people to interact with the Quibi brand in the real world. 

Meanwhile, Shanghai Fashion Week 2020 was the world’s first fashion week event to livestream its entire schedule of runway shows online. It sounds like an obvious step, but this hadn’t been the plan until coronavirus struck. It’s likely to be no-brainer for fashion weeks around the world going forward: using digital platforms to engage as wide an audience as possible, (rather than putting a physical, geographic barrier in between the brand and consumer), and in turn signposting them to both online and physical stores where they can buy at leisure.

As brands around the world continue to adapt and recalibrate their strategies, they must remember that the ‘new normal’ isn’t anything new at all. It’s simply about recognising and understanding the delicate balance of digital and physical interactions, and when best to use each one, to ensure they stay relevant to consumers long after the post-pandemic ‘revenge spending’ boom is over.

Photo credit (iStock): valentinrussanov