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John Ryan

So What Happens Next?

There will be life post-COVID-19, but only those who have prepared will be ready to deal with it.

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IT WOULD BE easy to succumb to a feeling of doom at the moment. Where are we headed, how many will not be around and how will I be affected? Fine, but hardly the stuff of which light at the end of the tunnel is made and perhaps symptomatic of those whose response to Covid-19 is to hunker down and pretend that it’s not happening.

But it is, and the smartest retailers are those that are not just wondering about how to keep their workforce while revenues plummet, but which are already considering commercial life beyond the crisis. That there will be post-coronavirus activity is a certainty, and how retailers deal with it in their stores depends on the attitude currently being taken.

Most non-food stores across Europe are currently shuttered, but this does not mean that all activity has halted. The savvy are looking at the reaction to events that are taking place: more people shopping less frequently and more locally seem to be the major elements, and taking a guess on whether this will pertain when normal life, of whatever kind, resumes.

That Covid-19 will have an effect on the consumer is beyond doubt, but the real question is whether shoppers will revert to type or whether something longer term will feature. The retailers most likely to come out of all this with a chance of surviving are those that are looking at different possibilities for their stores. Will they need hospitality in the same way they did before? Will shoppers browse as much as in the past, or will they be more mission-based? Should retailers be stocking better basics or having broader ranges?

Unless at least some research is being done into all of this by individual retailers, then the chances of prospering in late 2020 and beyond may be slim. Now is the time to be asking questions about what you want your stores to be and to have a series of possible, well-developed store options ready to act upon when conditions change. Think, and think a lot. Any failure to do this will, very probably, mean failure.

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John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.

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