The initial shock brought on by COVID-19 may be over, however the challenges of rebuilding and restructuring are just beginning. When the shutdowns began in March, many retailers and manufacturers implemented temporary procedures to ensure that they could endure the pandemic and still be able to prosper. The PPP money offered earlier this year was an essential lifeline for many, but it was only temporary aid. The effects of the pandemic have been longer lasting than initially anticipated, but the closure safety measures instituted remained temporary. Every business is facing the difficult challenge of remaining open while protecting the health of their communities. Companies are coming up with plans that will not only keep the doors open, but will grow their business in 2021 and beyond.

The COVID-19 recovery plan for retailers will hinge on their adoption of an omnichannel experience. Before COVID-19, it was becoming clear that online would become a key component to any business and the pandemic has only cemented that. For many companies, the marriage of physical and digital retail was like a mixture of oil and water, but the pairing will have to be more cohesive to recover. Digital sales allow a business to circumvent many of the health issues associated with physical contact and it allows some companies to overcome local shutdown orders. Digital sales also lessen the impact caused by supply chain disruptions by selling items that don’t have to be stocked on store shelves. Even businesses that operate primarily physically can benefit from digital enhancements such as making appointment times and pre-purchasing before arrival at a location. Digital systems have had a slow adoption over the years, but that pace has hastened with the pandemic.

It is not a simple process for a company to convert to digital processes and there is evidence that a complete shift could be unwarranted. The onset of the pandemic has brought out many innovative ideas, but the technology is still new and therefore expensive and untested. There is also the challenge of taking an already depleted workforce and retraining them. The hidden costs of a full switch to digital could create a negative cycle for a company. The high costs combined with inflation would be passed down to consumers and the expense of more highly trained employees could lead to a shallower workforce. This could make operating physical stores an untenable situation and that is not a feasible solution to recovery.

The implementation of a new omnichannel experience will be on display by many large retailers this holiday season. Retailers like Walmart and Target have already committed to multiple weeks of traditional Black Friday deals. Many deals will be offered as online only initially before being offered at physical locations. The goal is to spread out the number of shoppers in store at any one time which will also ease pressure on supply chains and employees. It will be a significant change from previous years, but a successful run could lay the blueprints for shopping of the future. In 2021 we could see the prioritization of digital sales, while still offering a strong physical component for those who want it.

The backbone of a solid COVID-19 recovery plan will lie in the implementation of true cutting-edge consumer experiences. It will remain necessary to employ and maintain a workforce that can provide an added value. The curated implementation of online services will help combat inflation without raising prices that drive consumers away.