In December of 2020 we found ourselves in the midst of a COVID-19 surge and were left hoping that 2021 would be the year of recovery. Overall, this year was an improvement, yet it was a rollercoaster ride and we still find ourselves in the middle of a surge. The difference now is that we have a better understanding of the challenges we could face in the next calendar year. 2021 featured a recovery that exceeded expectations along with a record breaking holiday shopping season. It also featured two variants that put a significant damper on those efforts and the supply chain nearly forced more stress than it could bear.

The first half of 2021 offered some very promising returns as businesses began to recuperate at a rapid rate. Vaccine rollouts and the lifting of mandates was followed by companies welcoming back consumers that had been waiting a year to shop and eat at their favorite establishments. Restaurants in particular had been hit hard the previous year and the return to dining rooms couldn’t have come soon enough. An industry that at times seemed on the brink of collapse began to return to full menus and some even started expansion plans. Retailers began to offer more in-store deals to compliment the online offerings they had pioneered in 2020. However, the widespread emergence of the Delta variant put a hitch in their plans.

Delta caused many retailers and restaurants to stumble back to different forms of temporary mandates. Many states were hit hard and reinstated dining & traveling restrictions and face coverings were brought back. Compounding with the influx of new cases was the labor shortage that is still hampering many companies. 2020 was categorized by mass layoffs and record unemployment, yet when retailers reopened, their former employees were nowhere to be found. There have been arguments over what caused this shift ranging from employees seeking better pay, to being incentivized to stay home through boosted unemployment, and workers moving away from retail and restaurant to other industries. When businesses reopened, they were met with a flood of new and returning customers, yet many did not have the staff to keep up with demand. This led to hiring campaigns that offered signing bonuses, higher wages, and more health benefits. So far, the efforts have fielded mixed results with local stores still posting closed signs due to adequate staff not being available.

Despite the Delta variant and labor shortages, businesses pressed forward making slow progress on recovery as we headed for the yearend. The 2021 holiday shopping season was meant to help bring businesses back from the brink and others speed up the recovery process. Other than a few noteworthy shortages, the supply chain held up throughout 2020, yet it finally buckled under the pressure this year. Every part of the supply chain was hit from factories being unable to source raw materials, ships stuck in ports, and a lack of truck drivers preventing transport. Retailers responded by beginning the shopping season an entire month early and extended promotions that usually expired in 24 hours to stretch across four or five weeks. The supply chain still struggled with electronics in short inventory, and it was nearly impossible to buy automobiles. Grocery stores placed limits on popular items and inflation caused concern among consumers, yet shelves were not as empty as they could have been and the spreading out of holiday deals had the intended effect. The result was a shopping period that was highly successful despite the myriad of challenges along the way.

The success of the holiday season could have been greater; however, it was still remarkable after a difficult time in 2020. According to MasterCard holiday shopping was up 8.5% and in-store traffic saw an 8.1% uptick. The season was almost thrown into disarray as it crossed the finish line with the emergence of the Omicron variant. While the new strain caused some consumers to pull back and a handful of restaurants & retailers to temporarily shut down, it does not seem to have sent the season overall into a tailspin. 2021 is coming to a close and the year is hard to put a grade on. It was filled with plenty of unforeseen challenges that also opened the door for new innovations. The year marked a financial improvement for many companies, yet there is still uncertainty waiting ahead. Has the unpredictability of 2021 given us any insight into 2022?

The Omicron variant is still an unknown variable and its effect on each industry will carry into the New Year. Cities including Chicago and Boston have already instituted proof of vaccination mandates for restaurants following others like Los Angeles and New York, even though the existing mandates have caused frustration for restaurateurs. We made it through the holiday rush and the supply chain is still seeing struggles. As long as there are labor shortages and outbreaks continue to cause shutdowns across the world, we will likely be dealing with some empty shelf spaces for a time.

The pandemic has not fully ended, yet we are entering a new phase where there will be less emergency response actions needed. Companies have a clearer understanding of what works for them and they will continue to refine those policies as more information becomes available. The ground that was broken on new concepts and remodeling’s will come to fruition next year as these locations begin to open. Almost every industry invested heavily in technology in 2021 and we will see these powerful improvements in 2022. The recovery in 2022 will not be as rapid as it was at times this past year, yet it will be more stable with less tumultuous interruptions.

As we continue to adapt for today’s world, having a strong, yet flexible, marketing strategy and business plan are essential to growth in 2022. Companies that invest in solutions throughout the pandemic have seen those rewards and will continue to benefit as we move forward. Make Chain Store Guide a part of that recovery by expanding your client base and getting the analytics you need to navigate what is to come. Let’s work together to make the new year a great success.