(Almost) back

4 Mar 2021

This week: Foot traffic is ticking back up. Reopening days are here, or on the horizon. After a year spent at home, how will shopping change?



Let’s zoom out for a moment. With widespread vaccinations and warmer weather, we can allow for some optimism.

• Shaftesbury Plc, which owns commercial properties throughout London’s West End, reported growing interest – particularly from restaurateurs. “It’s the first time that we’ve had any sense of direction. Before, when there was a light at the end of the tunnel, it felt like it was receding. Now it’s coming closer,” CE Brian Bickell told The Financial Times. At Appear Here, we’re seeing website traffic return to pre-COVID levels. Demand in France has doubled week-over-week. Congestion on the streets of Paris and Rome is climbing back up.

• The UK Gov announced a new budget, which includes a raft of welcome support measures: extension of the furlough scheme, grants for the self-employed and small businesses, and extension of business rates relief. Some critics, however, point to crucial gaps – such as the lack of clarity around when the ban on commercial evictions will expire. “This announcement provides some targeted support to struggling businesses. However, for many retailers the devil will be in the detail,” said Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium.

• With Biden promising vaccines to all adults by May – growth is in the forecast. U.S. retail sales surged last month after another round of stimulus cheques. “We expect the economy to… really come to life in the summer,” wrote analysts at Bank of America. While Texas jumped the gun on a total – and mask-less – reopening, states across the U.S. are dialling back restrictions as case counts fall. Local news outlets are reporting a slow but steady return to in-person. Indoor dining capacity is continuing to go up in NYC. Oh, and all of the country’s Apple stores are now open.

You may remember that thought experiment we proposed at the start of the year, about what shopping might be like come summertime. As lockdowns ease, we’re about to find out.


“Which of your new mole-person habits will you struggle to leave behind?” satirised The Daily Mash. For real, though. When it comes to human behaviour – COVID has set some trends.

So what does that mean for retailers?

• Will there be an urge to splurge? Although in-person visits to the store have dipped, the average spend per trip has gone up. Households in the world’s major economies, including the U.S. and UK, have $2.9 trillion in additional savings. While they might have extra cash to spend, 63% of shoppers are NOT in the mood to wait in line, according to research by software platform Qudini. They also need a compelling reason to show up. “Retailers will need to focus on creating powerful and engaging in-store experiences that integrate with their wider omnichannel offering in order to quickly make up for lost time,” said Imogen Wethered, CEO and Co-founder.

• People have gotten pretty used to scrolling in their pyjamas, but 49% of them are still looking forward to returning to stores. How to lure the other 51%? “Landlords are thinking of radical options to get shoppers back to high streets,” reported The Times. Local authorities have a £150 million plan to attract crowds back to London’s Oxford Street, one of the world’s busiest retail thoroughfares. One of their proposals? Constructing a temporary viewing platform big grassy hill at Marble Arch. Our take: if you build it, they will come.

• Offline and online are no longer separate beasts. 71% of consumers won’t return if they’ve had a bad experience, whether that’s in store or on screen. “A blend of virtual and in-person occasions has been building, especially with younger consumers. [They] do not differentiate between digital and physical ­– it just is,” said Alison Angus, Head of Lifestyles Research at Euromonitor International.

Worldwide? The mood is experimental. People are more open to trying new brands and behaviours. Does the interminable monotony have something to do with seeking novelty?

53% of Americans are more bored than before, according to the U.S. National Pandemic Emotional Impact Report. “Pandemic boredom… could be reorienting the economy,” reported The New York Times – which pointed to this period of downtime leading to a boom in both people and businesses getting more creative.

Let the countdown begin.

Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.