Retailers: Hygiene, personalization, and curbside pickup will remain in centers when COVID-19 exits

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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Increased customer personalization will become even more important to retailers after the pandemic subsides, said the Container Store's Valerie Richardson.

Several features that have taken hold in malls and shopping centers during the pandemic will continue to maintain their presences long after COVID-19 departs, according to three leading retail real estate managers.

“Curbside pickup is about safety now, but people have discovered it also saves time in purchasing products they don’t want to dedicate a lot of effort to,” said Nordstrom VP of real estate John Dolson in a panel discussion about the current holiday shopping season at ICSC’s RECon New York virtual event this week.

“People often know what pants they want and they’ll order them online, but they don’t want the box on their doorstep so they’ll drive in and pick it up.  That’s a fundamental change that we’ll take away,” Dolson said.

Longtime Container Store VP of real estate Virginia Richardson said tech-powered customer engagement techniques will continue to expand as retailers widen their omnichannel operations.

“There was a big phrase circulating in the industry a few years ago that we had to deliver to the customer where, when, and how they were going to shop. Now we’ll see the realization of that because things like personalization and commoditization have come to the forefront,” Richardson said.

Senior VP of realty for Walmart International JP Suarez identified three areas that will endure after the pandemic: improved hygiene, health-oriented products in exercise and nutrition, and more locally supplied items. The last will take the longest to integrate, he noted.

“Locally raised and sourced products are good for shifting supply chains, but beyond that we’re seeing increased interest and awareness from customers about where they’re getting their stuff from,” Suarez said. “We’re sure that local suppliers can develop their businesses in parity with ours, but it’s going to take a while. It’s hard to find reliable local suppliers that can produce at the volumes we need.”