As of this week, every state has reopened from the coronavirus lockdown to some degree, allowing parks, construction sites and certain non-essential businesses to resume operation. Consumers will soon be able to stroll in malls and city shopping districts again, but the experience, at least for the foreseeable future, will be nothing like what people are used to.
First of all, there will be far fewer open shops. The pandemic not only forced almost every non-essential store in the U.S. to close, but forced many of them to close their doors for good. L Brands, which operates 1,700 Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works across the U.S. and Canada, announced a plan earlier this month to permanently close 250 Victoria’s Secret stores and 50 Bath & Body Works locations in North America in the coming months. The company has in recent weeks been scrambling to keep its privatization deal afloat after its private equity buyer sought to back out at the last minute due to the pandemic.
J.Crew, Neiman Marcus and JCPenney are expected to announce store closings, too, as all three retail giants have filed for bankruptcy. And then there are the tens of thousands of mom-and-pop shops that have been wiped out by the pandemic since the lockdown.
The remaining retailers will have to innovate in drastic ways to get business back to where it used to be.
“Retailers will need to adapt and innovate rapidly to survive. The reality of this pandemic is that it is driving retailers to innovate, now at an accelerated pace… The pandemic will cause five years of planned innovation to happen in the next 12 to 18 months,” Paul Magel, president of business applications at CGS Inc., which provides enterprise software to fashion and apparel retailers, told Observer.
“From the consumers’ perspective, buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS), using 3D and fitting apps to improve the buying experience and minimize returns will all become the way of doing business,” Magel added.
Many essential businesses are already offering in-store or curbside pickup services during the lockdown to minimize possible human-to-human contact. Retail experts believe this service will be part of the “new normal” after reopening.
“BOPIS is here to stay and will soon be the defining factor for shoppers of most retailers,” said DeAnn Campbell, a vice president at consulting firm Harbor Retail whose clients include Nordstrom, Target and Ulta, among others.
BOPIS has a few key benefits that are irreplaceable by pure online transactions, Campbell noted, such as encouraging easy returns (because customers can inspect purchases upon pickup) and boosting impulse buying—by allowing customers to browse products at pickup areas.
She added that, since most existing stores and shopping centers aren’t built to maximize curbside pickup, we will likely see retailers partner with convenience stores and commercial landlords to create “micro-distribution centers” in densely populated neighborhoods.
The largest brick-and-mortar retailers in the U.S. have all started resuming business under local reopening guidelines since the beginning of May. At reopened locations, frequent sanitation, temperature checks, face masks, plexiglass divides at registers and social distancing rules (limiting store capacity) are common protocols. Some stores have kept their restrooms or fitting rooms closed to further reduce contact.
Below are the latest updates from major department stores and retail chains you need to know before planning your next shopping trip.
Macy’s said earlier this month that it plans to reopen all locations within the next six to eight weeks. The department store will provide hand sanitizers for all employees and customers. Beauty services that require close contact will be suspended.
As of this week, Nordstrom has reopened 134 locations (out of 369) in the U.S. and Canada (full open store list), including 39 full-line Nordstrom stores, 94 Nordstrom Rack discount stores and one Nordstrom Last Chance clearance store.
Reopened stores will keep fitting rooms closed for now and hold off returned merchandise from store floors for longer than usual to prevent possible viral spread. Some stores will operate in reduced hours. You might want to check operating hours of specific locations before visiting.
T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, HomeSense and Sierra
All these brands’ parent company, TJX, reopened 1,600 stores worldwide last month. The company plans to reopen all 4,400 locations before the end of June.
Reopened stores will enforce social distancing rules with signals and regular in-store announcements. Fitting rooms will be closed.
Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, Intermix, Hill City
Gap Inc., the largest specialty retailer in the U.S. operating all the brands above, has reopened the majority of its 800 stores in the U.S. Reopened locations will accept returns as usual. Fitting rooms will stay open (with frequent cleaning), but bathrooms will be closed.
Contact curbside pickup is available in select states. Online orders placed before 2 p.m. will be ready for pick up within two hours.
Nike has begun store reopening in the U.S., along with 14 other countries, since early May. The company said its reopening process will strictly follow local government and health guidelines. Reopened stores will be disinfected every two hours, in addition to the standard formula of face masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing.
Nike is also introducing a contactless shopping function on its mobile app, where shoppers can order aa specific shoe size to try on without the help of a staff member. The app also comes with a self-checkout option.
Sephora is slowly reopening its 430 stores across North America. But the one-stop beauty shop known for its convenient testing services will suspend all product testing in reopened locations. All returned products will be destroyed to protect employees and customers.
The beauty store will also offer a 10 percent discount to health care workers through the end of 2020.
Ulta Beauty has reopened about 200 locations (out of 1,200) in the U.S., some of which offer hair services. Like Sephora, Ulta has suspended in-store product testing and other contact services. The company has also recently launched a curbside pickup service, which is now available at more than 700 locations.