Blog Post

2020 Retail Recap

January 15, 2021 in COVID-19, Thought Leadership

A global pandemic, protests, riots and wildfires are just a few factors that have affected Specialty Retail sales in 2020. Retailers found themselves challenged to address what 2020 threw at them, and retail sales were impacted as a result. But even with all the factors that have shook their world, Specialty Retailers have shown incredible resilience. They have learned that the best way to be prepared is to become flexible and agile. Brick and mortar stores have proven resilient in the marketplace by perfecting their omnichannel strategies. New services offered have been embraced and are becoming expected by customers.

Digital vs. Physical Sales

The events of 2020 have reduced the frequency in which shoppers visit stores in-person.  So it’s no surprise that in-store, brick and mortar sales are down by 12.3% in North American Specialty Retail, since reopening after the spring lock-down. The global pandemic has forced even the more traditional shoppers, who prefer to shop in-store, to begin shopping online. So it’s also no surprise that online sales have surged in North American Specialty Retail in 2020. Consumers have realized the convenience of online shopping. That, coupled with the anxiety of the pandemic and store closures, were sure to present such statistics. The increase in digital sales, however, do not fully offset the decline in brick and mortar sales.

Retailers Expediting Omnichannel Services

Early in 2020, most Specialty Retailers were still somewhere on the deployment road map for their omnichannel strategies. For many Retailers, services like BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) and BOPAC (buy online pick up at curb) were in the planning or testing stages, and were going to be rolled out in due time. However, the outbreak of Covid created an urgency to expedite the deployment of all these services. In fact, we’ve heard from many Retailers that their omnichannel roadmap was expedited, accelerating and condensing a 3-year road map into just 6 months!

We also observed a very ‘collegial’ environment between our clients, especially during the lockdown stages. In this very fluid environment, everyone realized that no-one had all the answers. Retailers were happy to discuss and share various strategies and tactics they were trying. It was inspiring to see the community of Retail Executives come together to share knowledge and experiences in difficult times.

The Shift in Customer Behaviors and Expectations

Although 2020 was a year that Specialty Retailers may soon want to forget, there were still some valuable learnings – particularly in the notion of elevating the customer above both the digital and physical channels. Shoppers have always wanted a true omnichannel experience. They have never separated a brand between its physical and digital forms. They have always expected a seamless, superior shopping experience across all channels that allows them to engage on their terms, whenever, however, and wherever they prefer.

In the rapid development of new services and features to interact with their customers, most Specialty Retailers have fully embraced the customer-centric model, with each channel representing varied avenues to reach them. With Covid-19, Retailers had to be responsive, both to customer concerns, as well as to the extremely fluid regulatory environments. While implementing sanitation standards, capacity limits and restrictions during operating hours, Retailers by and large succeeded in maintaining their focus on their customers. Necessity is the motherhood of invention – any idea to put an item in a customer’s hands was tested, and the role of the physical store became the laboratory for these ideas. Concepts that were viewed with hesitation and skepticism pre-pandemic were embraced passionately, and the customer has responded by shopping with a greater purpose (as evidenced by the increase in Visit Value). As a result, these new services have now become a permanent part of the customers’ expectations.

New services offered by retailers to customers

The Shift in the Role of the Store Associate

It’s not only customers who have shifted their behaviors over the past year. The role of the brick and mortar store has also changed, and so naturally, the role Retail Associate has also taken new shape. In order to deal with the challenges that 2020 brought on, Retailers have leveraged their store staff in new and creative ways to both engage with customers and find new ways to get product in their hands. The result? Engaging through chat or virtual appointments and using technology to connect Customers and Associates when they couldn’t physically be together are now practices that will remain in place long after the pandemic.

Takeaways from 2020

Although 2021 opens with an element of unknown, Specialty Retailers have learned that they need to be flexible and agile in order to tackle what challenges the future will bring. Elevating the Customer above the channel level will enable Retailers to focus on what matters – how to get product into Customers’ hands. Leveraging their physical locations, along with the skills and knowledge of their front-line Associates will allow Retailers to continue to test and innovate new methods to seek out and delight the customer. The in-store experience is going to be more critical than ever in building trust with shoppers and ensuring the long-term viability of a Retailer.

StoreForce can help you to achieve your retail goals and labor planning effectiveness. Interested in learning more? Contact us and engage with one of our retail experts as to how we can future proof your overall retail store management.


Dave Loat, President at StoreForce

Dave Loat is the President and co-founder of StoreForce. Dave has over 25 years of experience working with some of the best-known brands in retail and has incorporated these learnings into the StoreForce solution. He is truly passionate about store operations. Prior to StoreForce, Dave was a founding partner of Karabus Management, which grew to become the second-largest retail-specific consulting firm in the world. While at Karabus, Dave had the experience of working with over 100 retailers.

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