The retailers thriving amid the pandemic are the creative and nimble ones.
At the turn of the last century, the department store gave women a place where they could appear alone in public without risking a scandal. Now, behold their buying power: Women now drive 80% of all consumer purchasing, according to Bloomberg. However, with the internet providing more choices for shoppers to flex their purchasing might, a day of reckoning has come. This year, major department stores such as JC Penney, founded in 1902, have filed for bankruptcy.
The retailers thriving amid the pandemic are the creative and nimble ones. For example, Etsy became a destination for face masks, but it also reported a 79% increase in non-mask sales in April – a big boost for the artisans who sell handmade products on the platform, 83% of whom are women. This is one manifestation of the shift toward online purchases, which saw an 8.4% monthly gain in April, according to the Commerce Department, with online sales increasing 21.6% when measured year over year.
The web also offers more options for refurbished and used items. Nearly 64% of women have bought or are now willing to buy secondhand products, according to a 2019 GlobalData Survey, up from 52% in 2017. Sites like ThredUp and Poshmark lead in the clothing category, while Amazon Renewed and Overstock offer refurbished electronics.
The more successful brick-and-mortar retailers have pivoted by accelerating the pace of innovation. Many clothing retailers have begun offering curbside pickup of items for the first time, and big-box stores are reporting meteoric gains in their existing services. Target reported in May that curbside drive-up purchases jumped 1,000% in April compared with a year earlier. Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart saw similar trends.
In the age of Amazon, brick-and-mortar commerce still represented 89% of total sales in 2019, government figures show. And experts say retail locations are by no means doomed. They will simply evolve via tech like contactless shopping that allows you to forgo the checkout line. “We’ve seen how technology can make online shopping more efficient, with lower prices, more selection and increased convenience,” said Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist. “We are about to see the same thing happen to offline shopping.”
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Sources: Bloomberg; The Associated Press; Forbes; Nielsen; GlobalData; The Washington Post