Reilly Stephens of Retail Prophet

Retail in the Age of Coronavirus

Reilly Stephens is Director of Insights for Retail Prophet, one of the world’s foremost retail consultancies. Having worked in ideation and launch of national advertising campaigns, she now leverages her understanding and network in the music, tech, marketing and advertising industry to keep brands up to speed on grassroots movement and trends.  Clients include Fortune 500 brands, national retail chains, manufacturers, leading global marketing agencies, trade associations and government.

What should we know about Reilly?

She regularly speaks with brands and retailers to help them understand the pitfalls of generational marketing and has been–in the past few months–gathering insights and trends during the pandemic that will help brands and retailers to thrive in these uncertain times.

How has COVID-19 propelled retailers shift to improve or create an online presence?

This year’s experience has accelerated digital sales by some four years. Prior to the pandemic, the growth of digital sales was around 18% per year but that has doubled as our needs for convenience has increased. Currently digital sales account for 14.4% of all U.S. sales and is expected to be 19% by 2024.

What are some of the long-term effects of the pandemic on our shopping habits?

We are moving to making our routine purchases online and as early as 2033, 50% of our routine shopping could be online. And retailers like Amazon are providing subscription services with discounts that encourage online shopping for essentials.

What’s the longtime diagnosis for brick and mortar stores?

Prior to the pandemic, retailers were looking to experiential retail to bring new life into physical stores. Now, COVID-19 is creating challenges and opportunities for retailers both short term and long term.

While retail stores are experiencing a fraction of traffic right now, shoppers will return but maybe for a different reason than before. Because there are so many single households, there is a continued need for social bonding. And retail stores may take a larger role in providing experiences.

The purpose of stores is changing because they are no longer repositories for product information, expert advice or opinions. Rather, they may become places of experience – with events, discovery, and special experiences.

Are there ways for independent retailers to survive against the large national retailers?

Independent retailers can no longer compete on price and convenience. All independent retailers are now specialty retailers who need to offer high touch, super intense experiences. Younger generations also embrace shopping local as part of their social advocacy.

Will shopping centers return to being community gathering places?

Some shopping centers will be transitioned to product warehouses that will provide for even quicker delivery. Of those that remain, more than ever, retailers will become even more community gathering places, as exemplified by WalMart’s new drive-in movie events with stages, studios, and event spaces.

Who will come out of COVID-19 stronger than before?

Anybody who is innovating and running full speed towards innovation will succeed. Some of the brands that have succeeded are Amazon, WalMart, Kroger, Nike, and specialty retailers like Lululemon.

Today, one of the trends emerging is livestreaming by retailers. During the SARS epidemic of the early 2000s, a Chinese retailer had to close stores. To continue to operate online, they mobilized their associates to stream live online to answer questions and to provide product demonstrations. Today, they are the second largest online retailer in China.

How are women shopping differently?

Women have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic for two reasons. One, the jobs most affected have been jobs in categories where women are most prevalent – education, retail, restaurants, hospitality, and travel. Second, women have taken on more responsibilities for children and their education during this time. The priorities of women’s shopping have shifted. Pre-pandemic they sought (in this order) quality, approval of their children, and price. Now the focus is first on availability, then price, and last, quality.

Resources and Links

Retail Prophet website

Reilly Stephens on Twitter and Instagram

Reilly Stephens on LinkedIn