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Pandemic Accelerating Need for Rapid Change in Canadian Retail: Study

The huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the retail sector will spur rapid change, driving a radical rethink of the customer journey, particularly looking at the rising influence of urban Generation Z consumers, according to the latest PwC Canada’s 2020 Consumer Insights Survey.

The report said retailers will need to focus on several key shifts in setting out their long-term strategies. Retailers will need to pay attention to Gen Z, who’s shopping habits will shape buying behaviour. They are 25 percent more likely to shop online, and those that go into a store to shop will do so if they can justify the trip.

Also, 40 percent look at a shopping trip as a source of fun and are more likely to want additional services. As more organizations settle into new ways of working, including remote working over the longer term, e-commerce is expected to increase and retailers will need to put more effort into their online and in store experiences, said the PwC report.

“Retailers should determine where and in what circumstances it makes sense to have a physical store and where they need to repurpose their store format and size to respond to consumer shifts and preferences,” added PwC. “In the grocery category, for example, some larger stores may adapt certain spaces for micro-fulfillment of e-commerce orders to support express pickup or delivery. By rethinking the role of the store, investing in seamless digital solutions and offering the right product mix, retailers can position themselves to win in this new environment.”

COVID-19 HAS ACCELERATED THE RETAIL SHIFTS THAT PREVIOUSLY WERE HAPPENING SLOWLY

Anita McOuat, Partner and National Leader – Technology, Media & Telecom (TMT) and Consumer Markets with PwC, said COVID-19 has really accelerated many of the shifts that retailers have already been undertaking in recent years. It’s just put the pressure on retailers to adapt their product mix and operations to this new environment a lot faster than they might have planned.

“We’re seeing the impact of COVID-19 on retail really varying by category. For instance, food would be different than clothing. And we’re really seeing a difference in the way that Generation Z consumers are shopping . . . Retailers in general need to think about the investments they’re making today and really look for that Gen Z cohort as the crystal ball of what will be the consumer of the future.”

GEN Z WILL FORM THE FUTURE OF THE RETAIL SECTOR

Gen Z is the group that followed Millennials and today are typically between the ages of 18 and 22. They will be the shoppers and consumers that form the basis of the retail sector in the coming years as their earning power grows throughout their careers.

“This is a group that is 25 percent more likely to shop online compared to the Boomers. And those that go into the store to shop will only go if they can justify the trip to themselves,” sais McOuat. “So we asked them, what would make you go into a physical store? And overwhelmingly it’s for an experiential reason or a social reason. Really, if it’s going to be fun I will go to the store. Can I put it on Instagram? Is it a fun place to go with friends?

“And the other thing that was really a stark generational difference is the interest in personal shopping services. Gen Z shoppers are much more interested than Boomers in personal shopping. We saw the greatest difference there.”

Before the pandemic, consumer confidence was healthy, with significantly more Canadian respondents (34 percent) saying they expect to spend more in the next 12 months than those looking to decrease their spending (20 percent). But as confidence lags amid ongoing economic uncertainty, we can expect consumers to be more careful with their spending as the lockdown eases, suggesting they’ll gravitate towards products or services that they judge as providing superior value, said the PwC report.

McOuat said retailers in the future will have to think about whether they can repurpose their stores to provide that fun and personal experience that Gen Z shoppers will be demanding. Can the stores be repurposed to become a fulfillment centre for their online channels? That could mean keeping the real estate of certain stores but turning them into a smaller warehouse essentially. Or perhaps turning part of the store into a fulfillment centre?

She said retailers will consider whether they can put services into their stores so that people have a reason to come in beyond just getting the physical, tangible product. They’re coming in because there’s service.

“Some of the (changes in the future) require large investments in operations and supply chain, behind the scenes. And those investments are often three year or five or 10 year shifts. So retailers really cannot start soon enough if they have not started already to make those shifts because the Gen Z cohort will be the primary spenders in five or 10 years,” said McOuat. “So you won’t be ready if you’re not investing now.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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