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How the corona virus modifications the best way we store – and what we purchase

People wearing face masks walk past a sales sign on Oxford Street in London, England.


The coronavirus pandemic is likely to change how and what consumers buy, forcing retailers to innovate quickly in a race that is likely to put pressure on smaller brands.

Even before the pandemic, retailers were under pressure, struggling to adapt to a growing online world, and faced lower margins in the face of a variety of competitors. The Covid 19 outbreak has accelerated some of these trends as more people shop online and an inventory surplus is likely to further reduce margins.

However, analysts are confident that the pandemic is not the end of Main Street.

"I'm pretty optimistic," Aneesha Sherman, senior analyst for European general retail at Bernstein, told CNBC last week.

"People who like to shop in the store, even millennials and Gen Z, who have all the apps on their phones, still like to shop in stores." Researchers define millennials as those born between 1980 and the mid-1990s, while Gen Z or Generation Z refers to those born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s.

Several brands have recently announced store closures due to financial pressure on the virus. For example, Inditex, the retail giant that Zara owns, announced earlier this month that it would close between 1,000 and 1,200 stores worldwide.

In addition, other retailers have come under management as the virus has exacerbated their liquidity problems. This was the case with Oasis, Warehouse, Debenhams and Cath Kidston, to name a few of the British names affected.

With the lifting of the locks, many consumers in Europe have returned to stores, and some people like to queue for hours before they are let in.

Shoppers queue up to enter the Primark store in Madrid, Spain.

Carlos Alvarez

"Many people want to do normal things again," Jat Sahi, Fujitsu's retail consultant, told CNBC. "Going to a store and going shopping could be part of bringing that normalcy back."

Although many European governments have lifted some blocking restrictions, challenges remain when it comes to vacationing abroad, cultural events, and most people who continue to be encouraged to work from home.

This means that shopping has become one of the few social options available – and larger malls could benefit.

"Shopping centers and retail parks will do better because they are able to create social distance. They are wide, open spaces, they have large passageways, it doesn't feel unsafe," said Sherman von Bernstein.

A structural change that I see in the next few years is less cause for new clothes.

Aneesha Sherman

Senior analyst at Bernstein

There was an inevitable step towards online shopping. Kantar, a consulting firm, said e-commerce sales have risen sharply amid the pandemic. The research company said that 40% of consumers now say that they have "increased or significantly increased" their online shopping "has increased to 48% for households with children and millennial households".

This online shift is expected to continue in the future.

What do people buy?

"People will largely revert to their old habits, but a structural change that I see in the next few years will be fewer occasions for new clothes, so we will have fewer major concerts and sporting events and major celebrations." Weddings and holidays, "Bernstein's Sherman told CNBC.

Occasions are one of the biggest buying drivers for consumers.

"We will see a lot more sportswear, loungewear, casual wear, less dress and occasion wear, and when combined with the fact that people work more from home, there will obviously be less office and evening wear," she added.

Kantar has also suggested that consumer behavior will no longer be the same in the future. More than half of the millennials and Gen Z consumers surveyed by the research company said their blocking habits would continue after the pandemic.

"Improved hygiene, healthier nutrition, family time, and personal development are most likely to be maintained," the company said in an article published earlier this month that polled over 100,000 consumers in over 50 different markets.

"More than half of the world (51%) say they exercise more. These changes all lead to different needs and spending patterns."

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