The financial stress of corona: How retail could provide some ironic relief for economies
It is relatively straight forward to connect the dots in the trail of the demise of modern retailing.
- Ever higher rents are forcing shops away from city and town centres.
- Humongous food shops are driving local supermarkets to despair.
- Amazon has sapped the strength of large retailers, who have often reacted with the speed of dinosaurs.
- And now Covid-19 has taken people off the streets. The shops are left with rent to pay, but no sales.
Last week, my wife ventured into the centre of Jerusalem, as Israel emerges from lockdown. She reported back how several shops had just disappeared – shut and no stock inside. This included some leading local chains.
Covid-19 has taught us a lot of things. Sociologists will have a field day, when their research kicks in. For example, Israelis, known for their paranoia to watch news programmes, have began to steer away from the media featuring current events.
Similarly, much has been made of how ‘community spirit’ is coming back into play around the world. People are going out of their houses, together praising workers in the front line, praying or just creating social-distanced silly dances.
As retail expert Paul Brooks remarked in a classy podcast with Jonathan Gabay, Covid-19 is bringing about a “transformation” in how we approach our lives. In an effort to readdress the balance between ‘work, rest and play’, Brooks argues that we are focused on “authenticity”.
And nowhere is this more true than the return to prominence of the local neighbourhood corner shop – food, clothes, books or whatever. How come?
Covid-19 started out when somebody let a horrendous virus escape from a man-made lab. All the clever algorithms and the internet gadgets in the world could not stop it from spreading. In fact, man-made devices like travel had the opposite effect.
Time for a return to basics? Time to reject the offers from big companies, that often represent an attempt to dump dead products. Time to downsize.
And this, ironically, is where the small retail trade could look to a revival. They represent everything that has been turned away over the past few decades; available nearby, a human voice, no preset script, and a feel of ‘made for me’.
For example, earlier to today I was talking to the owner of a shop that sells ladies’ fashion. Now that she is out of location and readjusted her approach to selling, she told that Sunday had been one of her best days ever. One anecdotal story? Yes, but surly it is no coincidence that many of the latest entrepreneurs that have come my way in the past two weeks have also chosen these principles?
What next? Too early to tell. However, I assess that there is a move towards small is beautiful. Retail, encouraged by local authorities, have a chance to lead the selling revival.