Retailers and shopping centre owners around the world are trying to figure out what the future of retail looks like. With foot traffic declining and online traffic increasing, the structure of the shopping centre offering will change significantly in the next year – in fact analysts have reported that COVID-19 has accelerated the retail industry by five years.

The new future will be impacted by several factors, some of which existed long before the coronavirus pandemic hit:

  • We have just trained 4.57 billion people to shop online. A friend shared a story about her 80-year-old grandmother who is now doing all her grocery shopping online. Before COVID, she never would have considered jumping online
  • We have developed a crowd-averse and safety-first mentality
  • Convenience is a commodity that we will pay for
  • Shopping local is convenient

No one could have predicted what 2020 would look like, and no one can predict what happens next —  but we can make some clear assumptions based on the accelerated change in human behaviour over this period. And we can be certain that shopping behaviour will fundamentally shift.

We saw growth in online marketplaces accounting for 10% of consumer spending and a shift to click and collect services.

The question however is not whether we will shop in a physical place or online – there will always be a place for physical retail as a place for people to connect and fulfill all the senses — but the blend is about to change.

The question is how does the physical mall and the virtual world connect to provide a seamless customer experience?

If you think about one of your many frustrating shopping experiences it probably goes like this: You search online for jeans; you get 3.8 billion results, after clicking through some of your favourite stores you find a pair you like, but you want to try them on and you need them for the weekend. You hop in the car and go to your local mall, in store you are told that they don’t have your size; they can order them but it will take 3 -4 days and you will need to come back in store to pick them up. At what point did we think this was an acceptable customer experience?

This is where the opportunity of a virtual mall connected to your local mall comes into play.

Now imagine this experience: You browse online, the products and recommendations are personalised to you, you can see what products are in store at your local mall and if they have your size, if you have any questions you can talk to a personal stylist or concierge to assist you. Once you have selected the products you want you can choose your options, click, and collect in store, drive through and pick up or have the items delivered to you whenever you are – uber style.  In some ways this feels futuristic but the reality is that this is the level of experience customers will come to expect and we are seeing elements of this currently being trialled globally:

  • Cue in Australia recently launched a personal styling and concierge service
  • Target US reported a 1000 per cent growth in its kerb-side pick-up service for April 2020
  • Marina Square Shopping Mall in central Singapore is taking more than 30 of its tenants online with Lazada, Alibaba owned ecommerce platform
  • Kathmandu teamed up with Uber to offer same day delivery from store

For years now we have been trying to fix parts of the experience for years and it simply is not enough – customers want the entire experience.  Customers now have more choice and more access to brands and alternatives than ever before. This cannot be a quick Covid fix, we need to build a sustainable platform for growth.

For the physical store and shopping centre to survive we need to bring the human element to the digital experience and make the experience local, super connected and hyper personalised.

This is an exciting opportunity to rethink retail and the customer experience.

Kelly Slessor is founder and CEO of Shop You.