The New Normal of Retail

There have been various reports lately that Amazon, Walmart, and Target, among other retailers, are looking at hiring over 100,000 new employees in the next few months. When I first read about this a few weeks back, I was somewhat puzzled. In the short term, the demand for people buying online and it being delivered made sense, given the kind of restrictions people have during this Covid-19 quarantine.

However, I had initially thought that once we are out of danger from spreading Covid-19, and we got back to a somewhat usual way of life, the need for buying so much of what we used to do in person would go back to normal. That would mean that the hires by Amazon, Walmart, and others would be more of a seasonal move, rather than a permanent one.

As we go deeper into the quarantine and all of us are forced to change the way we work, learn, shop and even play, it appears that Amazon, Walmart, and others big companies who have online stores are preparing for what we may call shortly the “new normal of retail.”

I am not suggesting that big box stores like Costco and Sams or even stores like Walmart, Target, and other big retailers will not have a strong physical presence in the future. Shopping at these stores, as well as grocery stores, will always have a place in our society.

However, I sense that there is something bigger going on in terms of changing social behavior that will transcend the current Covid-19 crises that forces almost all of us to shelter-in-place. As we hunker down, we are learning that buying online or even ordering food to go, would work well even when we get back to busy schedules and can’t get out to a store to get what we need.

Amazon has already conditioned us to buy online for specific items we can’t find readily in stores near us. Forcing us to buy more of even mundane things like cleaning supplies, household items, and groceries, have been normalized during this challenging period in our history.

The proactive hiring by Amazon, Walmart, and others suggests that they see this shift taking place much clearer than the market does. They already had data showing a more substantial swing to online sales. Still, our current situation is making people much more comfortable with online shopping than they were before the stay-at-home mandate was issued.

This level of comfortably shopping online could become second nature. I have been talking to execs in online retail, and they confirm that they see something significant taking place before our eyes. As one executive told me, “if there were objections to shopping online in the past, they are all but gone now.”

It is too early into this phase of stay-at-home trends to see any reliable data on how our current quarantine will impact how much more consumers shift to buying products online. However, it does appear that Amazon, Walmart, and others see the data as it affects them. They are starting to understand that a significant shift to purchasing goods online is growing and will continue to grow even after we all get back to work, and life gets back to a somewhat normal pace.

On a similar note, Covid-19 is also forcing other industries who have resisted going digital to quickly adopt digital transformation policies. Up to now, many have shunned integrating digital technologies into their business models.

Newspapers are being forced to shut down print editions and ramp up digital operations. Restaurants who resisted doing take out orders are now doing this to survive. If and when they can get back to serving people on-site, doing take-out may be part of their long term business model.

Brick and mortar retailers that are closed are quickly jumping into the online ordering business to survive. Sellers, who only offered exclusive products online, are creating full online catalogs of what they have to offer.
On the other hand, those who have no online presence yet, like Marshals and others, are out of business until people can go back to the stores and shop in person.

I have done television interviews from my office with many TV networks over the years, as it is often difficult for me to get to a local studio to comment on a tech subject. Now, most of the networks are doing interviews with commentators from their homes, something that will continue well after this quarantine is behind us.

Our current state of forcing consumers to stay at home has begotten a new level of familiarity with online shopping, online food ordering, digital learning, and entertainment.

Moving to do much online is serving as a powerful educational process for all individuals to adjust to a digitally driven world. I see this not as a short term trend but one that will be longlasting even when our world returns to some level of normalcy.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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