2020 has been a year unlike any other. It began with a blindside hit from a pandemic and shutdowns and was capped off with a record setting Presidential Election. Despite the hardships and uncertainty that has carried through the year, as an industry we stuck together to make it through, and there is every reason to believe that 2021 will be a period of recovery. News of a COVID-19 vaccine has provided hope and the many retail and restaurant innovations pioneered throughout the year will pave a tangible path to success even if the pandemic persists.

COVID-19 has changed the landscape for the retail and restaurant industries, and how we will do business in the future. Some of the measures implemented, like social distancing, will become the new normal for many locations. Safety protocols and enhanced off premise services are likely to evolve further in 2021 and could drive new industry standards. Stricter hand washings standards are good for everyone and more robust food safety can prevent outbreaks of other forms of illness such as E. coli and the flu. Other more physical changes are also taking shape as new stores are being built. For example, Burger King is designing a new drive-thru that features lockers for food pickup and at least three lanes for traffic with no dining rooms. Starbucks has also closed several traditional locations in order to open more COVID-19 friendly takeout only stores in 2021. These new types of stores may not have been as effective had they been implemented a year ago, and now they are helping to future proof their brands.

In addition to these new storefronts we have seen internal changes, such as Amazon.com Inc. hiring new workers in large groups and Walmart Stores Inc. shifting their digital platform to remove minimum order shipping for membership owners. Contactless ordering and payment solutions will continue to rise in 2021 as it speeds up the transaction process and creates a hassle-free environment for consumers. There is no way to minimize the impact COVID-19 has had on every company, but the willingness to adapt has opened doors where none existed before.

There is much to look forward to with innovation; every year comes with uncertainty. 2021 will likely feature a new Presidential Administration, the ongoing battle with a pandemic, and the distribution of a vaccine. Businesses small and large have used 2020 to prove that uncertainty and change will not stop them, and they are up to the challenges. Companies are building for the immediate future with COVID-19 and our eventual future without it.

2021 will see consumers return to spending and what could be considered normalcy. Trade shows like ICSC, NRF, and NRA will return and blockbuster films will be released in some format or another. Online sales will continue to increase, and grocery shopping will continue even if looks a little more high-tech. 2021 may not be the future we expect, however it’s moving in the right direction as we look to innovation and collaboration to drive our mutual success.