business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Boston Globe has a piece speculating about the future of retail, writing:  "As we all look ahead to the still-distant day when we can indulge in simple pleasures like grabbing coffee in Harvard Square, browsing Back Bay boutiques, or ordering drinks with friends at a favorite neighborhood haunt, we wonder: What will the new normal feel like? How will coronavirus remake us as consumers, changing what we buy, where we buy it, and why?"

“There’s an old phrase, it takes 30 days to make a habit,” Erik Rosenstrauch, founder of retail marketing firm Fuel Partnerships, tells the Globe. “Now we’ve all had 30 days stuck at home to begin developing new habits.”

Among the shifts that experts tell the Globe are likely to occur:  

Greater price sensitivity, driven by the recession in which the nation has plunged … "more take-out, fewer food halls," as people remain concerned about gathering in large crowds in enclosed spaces … "new models will emerge when restaurants close," as chefs ands restaurateurs turns to ghost kitchens and hybrid restaurant-markets to satisfy consumers and their own need for culinary creativity … "department stores are DOA, and malls may be next" … and "mobile payments and e-commerce will thrive."

The Globe also suggests that in the nation's supermarkets, established brands that have reconnected with consumers during the pandemic could make grocery shopping a more nostalgic exercise than it has been in the past, making it harder for new and untested brands to break through.  And while e-grocery has taken off during the pandemic, experts question whether it can maintain current levels when things return to normal.

KC's View:

I agree with a lot of what the experts tell the Globe, but with some caveats.

One is that we have no idea how long the current situation will last, and so it is hard to know how ingrained new habits will be.  It seems possible that people could go back to old habits thinking we're going to have a V-shaped recovery, only to be surprised and dismayed if the recovery ends up being W-shaped.  If that happens, changed habits could end up being a lot longer-lasting, because we'll have a reduced level of faith in any recovery.

I'm not sure I entirely buy the grocery-shopping-as-nostalgia argument.  I think that will be true in some cases, but there will be a number of businesses - maybe even grocery stores that create new alliances with those chefs and restaurateurs - that will themselves create new models and find ways to appeal to the highest common denominator.