Can summer be saved?

11 Jun 2020

This week: Sister cities New York and London reopen within days of each other, with a few glimmers of what may be in store.



100 days since its first confirmed case of Covid-19, New York City began phase one of reopening – with non-essential shops allowed to admit the public for in-store pick-up. The Wall Street Journal reported that executives at Macy’s, which reopened its Manhattan flagship this week, were surprised to see a 50% drop in sales across stores, an improvement on the 85% decline they previously predicted.

As British retailers look ahead to June 15 – what will 12 weeks of pent-up demand translate into? The Guardian noted: “Reports from post-lockdown all over the world suggest that there is likely to be an appetite for a post-quarantine clothes splurge.”

• Following the announcement of the reopening of non-essential retail in the UK, online sales revenue growth dropped from 150% to 19% as shoppers anticipated a return to stores.

• Selfridges is rethinking the customer experience even before they set foot in the door – with live entertainment planned for queues. Long lines have already formed outside their London flagship in the few weeks the food hall has been trading. The question of queue management itself is, as The Financial Times put it, “a very British issue.”

• Some of New York’s DTC fashion brands have decided to postpone reopening, at least until phase two allows 50% capacity in stores. “The No. 1 challenge every leader will have is figuring out how to reopen safely and balance the cost of reopening with foot traffic,” said Noura Sakkijha, co-founder of Mejuri.

With signs pointing towards a post-lockdown sugar rush, will retailers be able to cope with capacity caps in place? Aimée Felone, founder of inclusive children’s bookshop Round Table Books, said: “When we do open, I know we’ll be absolutely inundated – we’ve had so many orders over the weekend even though our online shop is closed.”


How might stores evolve? We’re seeing online tools continuing to augment the offline experience, with digital programming aiming to make up for hands-on experiences. McKinsey reported that in the UK, where retail is the largest private-sector employer, technology is a “strategic imperative” to stay in business.

• Alongside physically reopening, Tiffany & Co and Mulberry will offer online styling sessions and virtual store appointments. Lush Lens, a feature of the Lush Labs App, will enable shoppers to scan products for ingredient, price, and how-to demos, without needing to touch displays.

• In the long term? The experience will be a digitally enhanced one, but ultimately centered on socialising. “Retailers are going to have to think of that full journey a customer will have through their mobile device … stores will also be more focused on community and connection,” Mary Beth Laughton, CEO of Athleta, told Fast Company. Michael Stefanakos, CRO at FieldStack, said simply: “People buy from people – whether it’s clothing or books or cold cuts.”

• Brick-and-mortar will serve to communicate. Doug Stephens, a retail futurist, told Retail Dive: “Once we get beyond the medical worry of Covid-19, physical stores will once again become more vital, but less for the distribution of products and more as a media channel for the retailer or brand.”

With the crisis leading more consumers online, retailers are wondering: will URL replace IRL? As long as curiosity and connection remain crucial to human nature, that’s unlikely.

One way to state the obvious – there is no rulebook for reopening in a pandemic. But as the lights turn back on, brands face a critical question: what is the new role of a store?

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