Curbside pickup, social distancing, touchless transactions, expanded online presence É the list goes on. So many new “normals” in retail that came to life during the COVID-19 pandemic. The big question is, Which trends aren’t going away anytime soon?

The truth is that some of these new ways of doing business are simply COVID-related trends that will likely fall to the wayside as things settle down in a post-vaccination world; however, some of the new directions have proven to be viable shopping options for many consumers. Those ideas are likely to take hold in a post-pandemic world.

In hindsight, some of us may be wondering, “Why didn’t we think of that sooner?”


First, BOPIS Explained

There’s a new term out there since COVID hit called “BOPIS,” which in case you missed the memo stands for “buy online, pick up in store.” This type of business has blown up, resulting in many stores adding permanent (or at least semi-permanent) curbside pickup areas or even drive-through scenarios when possible. Whole new systems have been implemented for consumers to procure products without leaving their cars. 

For add-ons and simple re-order items, I don’t see this going away anytime soon. Let’s face it, for all those people who genuinely love the in-person shopping experience, there are plenty who prefer to skip the whole experience of talking to people at all and are perfectly happy driving up for a quick pickup.

Because of this extremely popular new way of doing business, many stores are allocating part of their retail space to become fulfillment areas. Lowe’s has installed lockers at certain stores where customers can pick up purchases simply by scanning their phones. 

Frank DeJulius, owner of several Fleet Feet Cincinnati area stores, says that the new “Quick Fit” areas that Fleet feet stores implemented are here to stay.

“It’s basically lunch hour business that otherwise may have been missed,” he says. “People are super busy these days and those who know exactly what they want are often turned off by having to wait for somebody to help them. With this express area at the counter, they know they can pop in and get really quick help to grab their product for them and get them out the door.” 


Physical Changes Here to Stay?

The GlobalData analytics and consulting company shared that 68 percent of U.S. shoppers have said that they are going to use curbside pickup at stores more in the future and nearly 60 percent say they will collect more of their online purchases from inside stores. 

What other physical changes are we starting to see at retail?

The plexiglass dividers at counters are certainly here for the foreseeable future, but many retailers are also installing additional physical barriers to create longer term “forced” social distancing protocols in their stores.  Getting shoppers used to moving in a certain direction throughout their space has become much more important than in the past and is now becoming normal and expected by consumers entering a new space. 

A new approach to product merchandising is almost the exact opposite of what we’ve spent years mastering. The art of getting people to slowly browse through your store, picking up everything and wandering around aimlessly, has currently been replaced with the mission of placing products for quick purchase decisions. 

The current retail goal has become to get shoppers in, get the hot product in their hands quickly and move them out as swiftly and smoothly as possible. 

Sound counterintuitive? Yes, maybe, but studies are showing that this is how customers feel safest Ñ keeping shopping sessions short, sweet and focused. 

The good news is that they tend to be spending at least as much as pre-pandemic or even more, as they’re not planning on making as many store visits as in the past so they tend to make each one count. 

In addition, retail color specialists are starting to see trends to create more calming, relaxing shopping environments.  Consumers are more stressed than ever, so soft blues and greens are taking an uptick in retail environments.  


Athleisure and ‘Zoom Dressing’

Have you heard the term “Zoom Dressing” yet? Apparently it’s a thing!

People are much more concerned with their upper half only these days, so sales are up in tops and down in bottoms, with the huge exception of comfy leggings and tights. Athleisure is a more important category than ever and Lululemon reported sales soaring 157 percent in the second quarter of 2020. 

This Athleisure trend is certainly good news for running retailers, as we all know apparel is a tricky category to get right. Focus more on comfort right now, less on technical, as people can wear so many of these items for home, work and exercise, which now blend together more than ever.


Appointment Shopping

As for other trends retailers plan to hold on to past COVID, Jody Herzog, owner of several Fleet Feet Cleveland locations, says that the appointment way of selling is here to stay for his stores. 

Busy people love knowing they can put an appointment in their schedule, giving it the same importance as a Zoom client call. He says the response to this approach for some has been almost as well received as their free delivery program. 

“We’ll likely be adjusting the regularity or guidelines of our free delivery moving forward. but it is absolutely here to stay in one form or another,” Herzog says. “People have loved it and it’s been well worth our time and investment to keep our customers happy.” 

John Benedict, co-owner of Playmakers in Okemos, MI, echoes this. “People are loving our delivery service, at-home virtual fittings and the option to have outside regular hours appointment for those who aren’t comfortable coming in during regular hours. We’re doing whatever it takes to be exceptional,” he says. 

Playmakers has also used the wait list system that started pre-COVID to a much greater extent these past eight months. “We simply can’t let the store get too full, so every customer is greeted at the front door and put on a list,” he explains. “They receive a text when we can accommodate them. This makes people feel safe in knowing they won’t be entering a busy space.” 

In addition to delivering product, businesses are opening satellite operations that are going to where the customers are, much like the model of a typical food truck.  This is a new business approach that Benedict says has been discussed on his team as well, explaining that “we’re open to anything and everything if it keeps people happy.” 


Where the Customers Are

This concept first started with restaurants and local farm stands driving through neighborhoods selling their goods like an ice cream truck early on during the pandemic, as people weren’t even leaving their homes to go to farm markets. It has now expanded as retailers are forced to find more creative ways to make their products accessible to their customers. 

Pop-up shops in parks, bike paths and neighborhoods make for quick gift and impulse buy purchases. The idea sure worked over the past decade for mobile bike repair shops, so maybe it’s not so crazy after all?   

It’s also not too surprising that we’re seeing an uptick in outdoor shopping centers, as they allow for fresh air and plenty of space to spread out as you wander between stores. 


Different on the Other Side

The pandemic has forced all of us to re-assess how we approach business, shopping, social activities, eating out and traveling. The traditional rules of retail have changed and, as is true with so many things, those who are most nimble and willing to roll with the punches will continue to come out on top and push the envelope to get creative and find a new way to succeed.  

There are enough case studies at this point to comfortably say brick-and-mortar retail is indeed going to survive the pandemic Ñ it just may look a bit different on the other side.


About the author

Holly Wiese has more than  25 years of experience in the field of visual merchandising and retail design, including in the specialty running sector. She is a frequent speaker at The Running Event and has been a keynote speaker at a number of sportswear industry and merchandising events. In her spare time, Holly can be found riding her bike across the country or trail running around Boulder, CO. She can be reached at: [email protected];