One of the legacies of the 2020 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns is the long list of retailers who’ve filed for bankruptcy. In the United States, the list of causalities includes Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Pier One, Brooks Brothers, Sur La Table, Guitar Center, and Stein Mart. During this same period, as consumers have increased their reliance on online shopping, Amazon’s share price has risen from $1,900 to $3,160. Will the end of the pandemic bring a surge of business to retailers? Will online grocery shopping become the norm? Can anything slow Amazon’s path to world domination?
To make sense of the long-term impact of the changes we’ve seen in 2020, HBR spoke with Marc-Andre Kamel, a Paris-based partner who heads the global retail practice at Bain & Co. Here are edited excerpts from that interview:
One view that’s been repeated frequently during 2020 is that the pandemic tended to accelerate existing trends, rather than start entirely new ones. Is that true in retailing?
Absolutely. The world of retail was already going through extreme turbulence, driven by a number of factors. The first is consumer behaviors and demographic changes — more single parent households, more people living alone, more urban living. This is a 20-year trend.
On top of that, you have changing expectations — for more quality, more convenience, more speed, more choice, more value, all at the same time. That creates an impossible economic equation for retailers.