The retail industry has publicly endured relentless disruption that’s only accelerating. From the retail apocalypse to the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s almost impossible not to feel sorry for so many struggling brands.

In 2020 alone, we’ve seen bankruptcies from leading retailers such as Sur La Table, Ascena Retail Group, Brooks Brothers, Neiman Marcus, among many others. Lord & Taylor, the first department store established in the U.S. is closing all of its stores after 194 years in business.

The retail experience we once knew is withering away faster than ever. Some will stubbornly ride it out. But innovators are already reimagining retail’s next chapter of digital, physical, and immersive shopping experiences. The future of retail is not what it used to be.

Among many of COVID-19’s disruptions, McKinsey estimates that the pandemic has accelerated consumer adoption of e-commerce by as much as 10 years within a few months. Even as stores reopen, digital continues to surge. According to Salesforce Global Shopping Index, global digital revenue in Q2 grew by an unprecedented 71% compared to the previous year. E-commerce is only expected to continue to grow as COVID-19 is projected to spread for at least the next 12 to 18 months. According to IPSOS, 61% of consumers fear getting sick from brick-and-mortar retail. As a result, consumers are learning new digital behaviors that will stick over time.

So, what will it take for retailers to survive and thrive in this Novel Economy? The answer is innovation. But innovation in and of itself isn’t the magic bullet to solve all retail woes. Executives have to completely transform their mindsets toward one of growth and possibility, to shed the shackles of traditional retail frameworks, models, and guardrails.

It took a pandemic to finally accelerate retail innovation

Status quo is comfortable, a defined box of norms which defines the parameters, boundaries and capabilities of any given service, institution, or industry. The developments and innovations which we see often are developed within a set of traditional retail boundaries. Rigid corporate cultures and hierarchies staffed by traditional retailers and business executives keep the future of retail rooted firmly in its past. Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to jolt decision-making free from complacency, stubbornness, and short-termism (quarter-to-quarter priorities rather than long-term investments). Now, COVID-19 is motivating brands to make up for years of lost time. They have no other choice, really.

Customer behaviors and expectations are rapidly changing. The pandemic has consumers rethinking how and why they shop. When they do, they’re increasingly digital first. Though we’ve talked about this for years, their mindset is omnichannel, but in a new way. The customer journey is now advanced, integrated, and blurring the line between digital and analog experiences. In fact, customers want digital-like experiences in the real world, too.

Advanced and responsive retailers are demonstrating that speed and agility in these times of disruption are competitive advantages. As they innovate, new standards for retail experience push the industry in new directions.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.