Alexis DeSalva Kahler
Alexis is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Alexis focuses on US Retail and eCommerce reports.

As lockdown restrictions ease, stores across the country are beginning to reopen but things are far from normal. Not only is how consumers shop changing – with capabilities in stores being far from what they were pre-pandemic, but why and where consumers have shopped the past few months and will shop going forward, are different, too.

Mintel breaks down what you need to know about reopening retail.

What’s happening?

After months of lockdown, retailers are beginning to reopen stores throughout the country. Some consumers may have hesitations to venture back into stores and risk potential exposure to germs, as evidenced by the majority who continue to limit their time spent in stores and those who are actively avoiding stores, according to Mintel’s Global COVID-19 Tracker – week of May 28 – June 4. According to an upcoming Mintel report on the evolution of apparel retailing eCommerce, one-third of online clothes shoppers are trying to avoid stores. Still, some consumers are likely welcoming the chance to get back to some sense of normalcy and release some pent-up shopping demand. After months of staying mostly at home, and missing many occasions and milestones including birthdays, weddings and graduations, some consumers are likely looking to make up for lost time and get back to stores.

However, just because lockdown restrictions have eased, and non-essential businesses (retailers included) can now reopen, it doesn’t mean the concern or risks have disappeared. In fact, retailers are already facing a new challenge – the possibility of reopening stores, only to close them one again. Such is the case with Apple, which announced temporary closures in 32 of its recently reopened stores across four states that have experienced spikes in coronavirus cases, including Florida and Arizona. Cases of the virus reportedly continue to climb, as states throughout the country try to expand reopening efforts, making it more challenging for retailers that now need to decide if, when and how to reopen while keeping staff and shoppers safe.

What does it mean?

Aside from obvious questions related to health and safety, another issue retailers are faced with is determining the new, changing role of the store. What role does the physical store play if what can be done in stores is limited? The reasons many consumers visited stores in the past are no longer valid, at least not currently to the same extent. Trying on clothes, sampling products, even simply strolling through the mall with a group of friends, will be largely off-limits for the time being, posing a real threat to fashion and beauty retailers in particular. As a result, retailers are re-defining the store experience, responding with limited fitting rooms, appointment times for store visits and one-on-one shopping. These options are a solution and will likely continue, but for some consumers, this may make the in-store experience more tactical than emotional.

What to expect?

The possibility of another spike in cases of the virus, let alone a second wave, gives cause for more concern. While consumers may be excited to get back to stores, an increase in cases combined with the limited in-store capabilities may cause shoppers to avoid stores after the initial interest fades. Retailers such as Apple that have reopened are faced with the possibility of closing again, ushering in more complications. Retailers will need to consider the cost of closing and reopening stores multiple times, at least in certain areas of the country. Additionally, they will need to proactively consider a game plan for how to prepare for the possibility of more store closings, or a decrease in consumers’ interest to visit stores altogether. One thing is certain – just as the lockdown restrictions have been phased throughout the country, the road back to reopening will also be varied based on the type of retailer and their locations.