Post-Lockdown Shopping: The Good, the Bad & the Sad
Updated: May 21
Retail therapy is dead—for now! Forget about browsing; it’s shopping for procreation only. No touching! I needed sheets, I bought sheets (online, of course). I barely compared prices. Unbelievable! But how can you shop around when you can’t feel the fabric and check out the design options in person? How can you shop around when you’re worried sick about your finances, your family, your community, and your health?
I don’t know when I’ll be out there shopping again, but I know this: There’s no getting back to normal. There will be a new shopping normal. Today, I am mourning Lord & Taylor after reading that the department store chain plans to shut down as soon as the economy opens up. That store has been a retail fixture in my life. Over the years, it has been a regular stop on mother-daughter shopping days. During one trip to the department store, I remember laughing so hard in the dressing room at one of mom's hilarious remarks that I fell to the floor and peed (a little) in my pants. Since I was a kid, I’ve bought dresses for special occasions, outfits for work, jewelry for fun, and countless pairs of shoes at Lord & Taylor.
Many stores that were on the edge before the pandemic will be closing locations or closing down entirely when the lockdown eases. J. Crew has filed for bankruptcy and Neiman Marcus and JCPenney are considering filing. According to Business Insider, other stores that will be closing down or closing dozens or hundreds of locations include Pier 1 Imports, Chico’s, Gap, Kmart, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Sears, and the list goes on. Overall, retailers are expected to close 3,000 more locations this year. And that's not counting the thousands of small businesses at risk of closing down permanently.
Most stores, of course, will reopen as restrictions lift but they’ll be different. Here are good and bad things I expect:
· More BOPIS. It may sound like a urological disease, but it means “buy online, pick up in store.” Normally, you associate it with big-box stores and supermarkets, but many other stores will be offering it, including Ulta, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath & Beyond as well as clothing stores like Express. It's the closest you can get to instant shopping gratification since home delivery is now taking so long for many orders! A new twist on BOPIS to watch for is contactless curbside pickup, which means you can drive up to the store and a clerk will deliver your stuff right to your car; just pop your trunk and you're good to go!
· Contactless transactions. More retailers will be offering cashless, contact-free payment methods, and e-receipts. Many retailers will be installing tap-to-pay registers and accepting Apple Pay and Google Pay. In many stores, you are no longer required to sign for credit card transactions. Who knows, maybe your next delivery will be by drone. That will be cool! And perhaps more stores will be going the way of Amazon Go stores with no cash registers. I still can’t imagine a world where you just walk out with your stuff, but it’s coming!
· Fewer crowds. Although I’ve had to wait in line at supermarkets and at my local Home Depot just to get in the door, I'm guessing other retail stores will be very quiet for a while as so many of us are now shifting to online shopping. Also, despite the big rush back to brick-and-mortar shopping in China after the coronavirus lockdown lifted, I can’t imagine that happening here given the high level of unemployment that will likely linger for months or maybe years.
The BAD & the SAD:
· Worse customer service. Stores will be slow to rehire all of their help, especially chains that are planning phased re-openings. That will make it tougher to get a salesperson to help out. Also, forget about in-store makeovers, samples, and styling. And with everyone wearing masks and staying 6 feet away, customers service will feel very impersonal. Sadly, you can't see anyone smiling anymore.
· Closed or reduced fitting rooms. Nordstrom will modify the fitting room experience, keeping tried-on clothing off the sales floor for a period of time and cleaning them between uses, according to CNBC. That might mean long wait times to try on clothing in stores. And I’m sure you won’t have sales associates following you around anymore.
· Shortened hours. Many stores have announced they will cut down their hours of operation, though on the upside many will also offer special time slots for seniors.
· Going-out-of-business sales. I love a great sale but not this!
A few more things to expect:
· Sales to draw you back into stores.
· Face covering requirements in stores.
· Social distancing. Expect more one-way aisles with arrows, plexiglass dividers, and limits on customers allowed in the store, not to mention busy cleaning crews following you around.
· New return policies. Some are suspended for now; others are getting extended (Amazon, Macy's, etc.).
· A new mix of products. Stores are carrying different items to cater to the new normal. Clothing stores are selling masks and you can find gloves at office supply stores.
However and whenever this pandemic shutdown ends, I'll be grateful to get back to stores that have been shuttered for weeks. I'll never take for granted the simple pleasure of being able to walk into a store and browse.