As part of the Wired Virtual Briefings series, editor Greg Williams interviewed Shimona Mehta, Head of EMEA at Shopify about the impact of the pandemic on retail and consumer shopping habits. As a platform that enables businesses to sell online and attract, acquire and retain customers, Shopify has seen phenomenal growth as a result of businesses pivoting to ecommerce to survive the Covid-19 crisis.

Rethinking the store experience

Called ‘Rebooting Retail’, one area of the discussion focused on the need for physical stores to become a marketing channel for brands, rather than a sales channel. Shimona explained that before the pandemic many stores were actually more like warehouses, with piles of product displayed. However, with 150 million people having purchased online for the first time this year out of necessity, the role of the store will need to evolve to suit new shopping habits.

For non-essential purchases, Shimona sees shops as a place where brands can engage with their customers, and educate them about their brand and products. There’s opportunity to showcase brand values, from the materials used in products to the ethos of the company and why it was created. Shops bring customers into the world of that brand – it should be a space prioritised for marketing before the sale is made digitally. People who used to go to a store have seen that they can still get convenience, immediacy and an experience that’s easy to navigate online. Physical stores can differentiate though by providing rich experiences.

Agility reigns supreme

Shimona also highlighted in the briefing how the most successful businesses have adapted to comply with safety during the pandemic, calling out high end furniture brand Maker&Son. The company brought a sofa for her to try out in their van in the street! Using AR the customer can see what the furniture will look like inside their home, and then POS technology means it’s possible to pay directly in the van. Whilst usually people wouldn’t purchase an item like a sofa online, technology and innovation by agile companies has made that easy during lockdown.

Similarly, Shimona praised restaurant Pizza Pilgrims for creating DIY ‘Pizza in the Post’ kits, which have enabled the company to remain connected with its customers by building a community on Instagram. Diners are able to recreate the restaurant experience at home and Pizza Pilgrims sold 1000 test kits in 50 seconds!

Social as the digital high street

Social media is the digital high street at the moment – Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are where shoppers are going to discover new products and brands. As a result, social platforms have been key for brands to build and maintain their communities during the pandemic. This is why Shopify has partnered with TikTok to bring commerce to its platform; its merchants will be able to reach TikTok’s huge and engaged global audiences.

Retail needs to be where consumers are – the social ecosystem is developing and there is huge opportunity for a new era of social commerce. While the future of retail is definitely a combination of online and the high street, retailers need to change how they think about these channels and focus on delivering omnichannel experiences. The shopping habits we have developed in lockdown are likely to change retail for the long term. The best brands will be ready to respond and adapt again as lockdowns begin to ease.