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After the pandemic, what will happen to retailers as they try to reopen?

Many retailers failed to meet their May rent payments and many landlords have steadfastly refused to extend any sort of reasonable leniency to accommodate the retailers financial challenges due to this unprecedented closure of all malls, shops, dealerships, outlets, and boutiques. While most grocery stores continue to operate, the supply chain and the governmental imposed restrictions have had a negative effect and limited their business and revenues. One hour long waits in line-ups outside in poor weather to access these grocery stores are common. But, people need food, so they persist in these unacceptable conditions.

So, what will a retailer look like if they are able to survive the impacts of COVID-19?

During the virus, many people have turned to online shopping. So, Amazon, and other online retailers have flourished during these hard times. However, their delivery services have suffered mightily and prolonged delivery time frames have affected their sales too. For the most part, they have been overwhelmed with basic orders for food, so some consumer products have had uncertain and abstract delivery time slots of one or two months from the date of order. Whenever I get predicted delivery dates this far out, I immediately cancel the orders or abandon the shopping cart. So, this failed order performance has impacts on the online businesses too.

Undoubtedly, many retailers hope to quickly bounce back to their pre-COVID-19 business as usual. Some are even expecting a boost because of pent-up demand from many customers being stuck in their homes for weeks while stores were closed. For example, earlier in April, Hermès brought in $2.7 million on the first day that its flagship store reopened in Guangzhou, China once retailers there were approved to reopen.

But it is probably too optimistic to expect that things will go back to normal anytime soon. As a counterexample, last week Germany allowed stores of up to 800m2 to open again, including car dealers and bookstores, on the condition that they enforce social distancing and hygiene rules. However, according to the national retailers association, Germans chose to stay home and save their money instead of rushing to the reopened stores. 

Nothing is certain at this point in Canada, but our best guess is that the financial, operational, regulatory, and psychological effects of COVID-19 will linger well past the social distancing and isolation phases to define a new normal for retail.

Though e-commerce penetration still varies greatly by product category and retail format, COVID-19 has forced many businesses to shift to a stronger online presence. This could lead to a permanent increase in the level of e-commerce sales. Grocery, prepared foods, and pharmacies are good examples, as they are candidates for increased e-commerce with a corresponding shift in employees from shelf stocking/store service to picking and fulfillment.

Many smaller retailers who are attempting their first online presence have no idea what to do. They have expressed frustration with zero sales and low traffic. They need to learn that it is insufficient to simply create a web site. You need to design a site that welcomes visitors and makes it easy and seamless to buy your goods. You have to build in shopping carts, credit card transactions and most of all trust that the site is secure and protected. As well, you need to campaign the site to drive traffic to your home page with intense social media presence, online click-thru advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), customer affinity programs, as well as sort out all of the supply chain logistics to get your goods to the buyer in a cost effective, reliable, and fast way. Online retailing is complex. And, it demands a comprehensive broad strategy to succeed.

It is anticipated that there will be an accelerate closure and consolidation of physical stores. There will be a tendency to blame COVID-19 for this, but this trend has been occurring for the past two years, and the COVID crisis will accelerate the process. This trend is likely to impact restaurants and other franchise operations as well.

The crisis has created opportunities for cash-rich retailers to buy inventory, key locations, or entire competitors, at a discount.

With the hyper-focus on health, safety, and cleanliness across the supply chain, the costs to operate a retail outlet will increase. Therefore, health, safety, and strict cleaning processes are playing a critical role in combatting the transmission of COVID-19 and these more detailed and regulated process are likely going to stay. This can lead to longer delivery lead times and the greater need for safety stocks, particularly for cross-border goods.

With more and more workplaces shifting to remote structures in order to remain productive while respecting physical distancing orders, there could be an increased expectation for flexibility and support of working from home from all levels of the organization. In addition, in order to meet the needs of an increased demand for home-delivery, there will likely be an increase in the need for part-time workers.

A lingering effect in the post-COVID-19 world could be the hardening of social and physical distancing, leading to greater concerns about physical privacy and a preference for owned vs. shared assets.

What to do next?

Everyone is waiting for the end of this pandemic – when life can get back to normal. The retail world must prepare for a new normal. Benjamin Franklin said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Part of preparing for retail businesses is to form a strategy around the main elements of their business success – their customers, their workers, their merchandise, and their finances.

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Khusainova, G. (2020). What Will The Post-Pandemic Future Of Fashion Retail Look Like? Forbes. Retrieved on May 4, 2020 from,

Matusiak, E. (2020). Planning for the Post-COVID-19 Retail World. BDO Canada LLP. Retrieved on May 4, 2020 from,

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About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.

He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).

Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). 

He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. 

He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.