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A visit to the mall after World War III

COVID-19 is shattering the global economy. How will this impact the future of retail and, in particular, brick and mortar stores?
ILLUSTRATIVE: Shopping mall in Estonia (iStock / bruev)
ILLUSTRATIVE: Shopping mall in Estonia (iStock / bruev)

They say that after every world war, there is a major revolution. After World War I, the great empires disappeared, new borders were drawn across Europe and the Middle East, and we saw the rise of nationalization. It also became clear that economic power and industrial might were at least as important as military strength.

After the Second World War, the entire concept of colonialism receded, the world became more egalitarian, and technology was being developed at a more rapid pace. Mankind reached the moon, new alternative energy sources were created to replace fossil fuels, and a nuclear era was born.

So what will happen now after World War III? From my perspective, the coronavirus has created a type of world war. True, it is not a battle between nations; rather all of the countries are fighting against a frightening virus that is laughing at all of us and running wild. 

I have nothing to add regarding the problems, difficulties, and challenges that have been heaped upon us by this Corona-third World War. All the media is talking about these issues and all the experts and consultants are continuously analyzing it from all different aspects. I would like to focus on the things that will happen afterwards, on the new world that will emerge. And I believe, like many others, that there will be a new and different reality. As a businesswoman dealing with the world of commerce, I ask: What will the world of retail look like? What professions will flourish and which will disappear? And how will businesses be managed in this new world?

Among these issues, I foresee retail undergoing the most significant transformation. If before corona we used to purchase most of our goods in stores and only periodically visit a website to buy online here and there, Coronavirus has completely changed the situation. I believe that in the coming years, many stores will disappear, most purchases will be done online, and only the odd item here and there will be purchased in a brick and mortar store.  

Malls as entertainment centers

Mall owners will be forced to change their outlook and find new services to offer at their venues. These will be more directed on leisure activities, enjoyment, and meeting people’s need to get together. I see the malls turning into entertainment centers, with entertainment going beyond shopping. The focus will be more on leisure goods and cultural experiences. Book stores will evolve into reading rooms, stores for toys and games will become recreation centers, clothing stores will become styling studios, wine stores will transform into visitor centers with lectures and tastings, and so on. 

After corona, people will be seeking activities that take them out of the house. Whereas in the past, shopping would fulfill this need, after corona they will seek out experiences that involve activity and enjoyment together. 

Business owners who sell only merchandise that is not proprietary, like books, toys, clothes and such, will be those that disappear the fastest and in the greatest numbers. Manufacturers will understand that they can do without the retailers and retain higher profits for themselves on the one hand, while, on the other hand, being able to preserve and nurture their brand in the way they believe is right because they can now communicate directly with the consumer at home, in their own language. Only businesses based on specific professional skills like evaluation, testing, or treatments will continue to operate.

Professions such as in-store salespeople or collectors will decline dramatically. In contrast, the number of people who provide customer services and delivery will be in great demand. Professional service will become the new standard for success. Customers today are still relatively patient with ‘less than perfect’ customer service support or late deliveries, but they will stop being patient and will demand much high-quality service. 

Naturally, above all, the different digital professions, such as e-commerce, content management, web site construction, digital marketplaces, and others will be the most sought after professions for every company — large or small. Now, more than ever, the consumer experience will have to move to the digital domain.

Put away your whip

If we shine the spotlight deep inside the businesses themselves, we will be seeing changes in the management methods as well. In the past, we saw hierarchical organizations that focused on tasks and results – and not on the employees. But, the corona pandemic is changing all that. In pre-historic times – that is to say before corona – everyone had to be at work from 8 to 5 or 9 to 6, and managers kept an eye on workers to see what they were up to. Today, the situation has undergone a radical change with so many people working from home. Suddenly a manager can’t personally check up on each employee to see when they arrive and what they are busy doing. There is a major need for trust, both from the managers who need to trust their employees and from the workers who need to show they are dependable and honest. 

Managers who succeeded in infusing their organization with a feeling of trust for their employees before corona, and those companies who instilled in their workers a feeling of commitment, engagement, consideration, and a desire to go beyond the minimum required, will be rewarded with employees who continue along these lines, even when they are working from home. And those managers who ruled with a ‘whip’ and managed from a place of authority and fear, with less consideration for their people, will now see that their remote workers are indeed ‘remote’ in more ways than one. Their employees’  commitment will decline along with their productivity. 

If, before corona, we paid lip service to the importance of an embracing management style, that is attentive and inclusive in New Age style, the new reality will make this a must. For anyone who is still carrying a whip, it’s time to put it in the drawer and start from a fresh perspective.

About the Author
Estee Rosen is business consultant with 30 years of experience and expertise in the field of pharma and optics.
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