Harley Finkelstein thinks Covid has changed retail forever

Harley Finkelstein thinks Covid has changed retail forever
Image: Courtesy Harley Finkelstein
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It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.

We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.

Below is an answer from Harley Finkelstein, the chief operating officer of ecommerce company Shopify.

To put it bluntly, the retail industry will never be the same. Since Covid-19, we’ve seen fundamental shifts in the way brands and consumers interact, and major changes in purchasing behavior. The good news is that I believe these changes will enable independent businesses to thrive in a way we’ve never seen before.

In many ways, social distancing and stay-at-home orders have leveled the playing field for business owners. Being nimble is a requirement for entrepreneurs, and that’s the exact skill they needed to adapt their businesses to this new reality. We’re seeing companies of all sizes moving their businesses online, rethinking their physical retail presence, pivoting to provide curbside pickup and local delivery—all at lightning speed. And yes, physical retail will continue, but in the future it will exist as just one part of a broader commerce strategy. Siloed physical retail stores without an omni-channel presence will not survive.

Consumers are also paying closer attention to where and how they spend their dollars. This has been a time of great hardship for many, and businesses that are stepping up and giving back to their communities are rising in profile and importance. No longer is it enough for businesses to provide quality products—consumers want more than that, and they’re willing to build deep allegiances to brands that provide this for them. They are voting with their dollars for businesses that make it safe and affordable to shop during and after the pandemic, and that align with causes they are passionate about.

Despite physical distancing, consumers have never been closer to brands. They are feeling a sense of responsibility to shop local, to support small businesses, and to purchase directly from the people who make the products they love—and this isn’t going away. This will continue long after the pandemic has passed.

In this new reality, independent businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them will lead the retail industry. They will draw from their strength as pioneers of the omni-channel movement and benefit from their increased connection with their customers. Gone are the days of giant corporations winning their markets. Commerce is better when it lies in the hands of the many, not the few. Commerce is improved by diverse voices.

In the future, I am confident that we will continue to see independent businesses emerge as the role models for others to follow, the fabric of local communities, and the backbone of our economies.

To read more New Normal answers, click here.