A Crisis or an Opportunity for Local Shops?
The evolution of how we used technology from 2000 to 2020 seemed like it went at light speed compared to the 20 years prior. The ‘80s feel like the dark ages with rotary phones, and card files at the library. Now, think about the past two years and technology hit hyper-light speed in its evolution. The pandemic forced changes we thought were temporary that are now becoming a new foundation for the future that is unfolding in front of us.
The contemporary professionals in the workforce, who are also the growing power buyers in the marketplace are taking to this work-from-home change and making it their own.
They are becoming digital nomads, unrestricted by geography, gender norms, racial cues, and standard demographic measurements. This group spans Millennial and Gen-Z age groups and will include Gen-Xers who welcome this flexibility.
My extended family expands across the country with diverse ethnic, economic, and professional backgrounds, making them a balanced and easily accessible test group of this growing demographic. When I asked them about the most profound changes of the past two years and how their shopping habits have changed, there was a powerful similarity in their responses, even though their circumstances are unique. The most outstanding points to notice are:
~ What they value has become the driver of their purchases ~
Sustainability, flexibility, family time, creating a comfortable environment, and supporting small businesses.
~ Shopping in-person is no longer the first choice, but the last resort ~
In-person shopping is saved for the experience and to socialize.
~ Eliminating the commute has given them back the time they now use for self-care and personal development ~
Commuting was lost time in the past, eliminating the option for having time to themselves, for mental health, and growth. This has created an opportunity to explore more styles and modalities of self-care and spiritual development.
~ Shopping for comfort continues to replace the desire to shop for fashion ~
Comfort comes in many flavors and buyers are searching the internet for the brand of comfort that fits their lifestyle. Clothing, environment, convenience, sustainability, are all personal factors in comfort.
Workplace and or spaces change since the beginning of the pandemic have gone from a temporary solution to a cultural shift in many businesses. This is having a ripple effect in central business districts across the country. In Dearborn, Michigan, the Ford world headquarters has a fraction of the traffic they were used to pre-2020. Most Ford and Ford supplier offices remain remote and there are no immediate plans on returning to in-office operations. Local restaurants and shopping centers that counted traffic from those office workers are wondering how long they can sustain basic operations while trying to attract new and repeat customers in an online shopping and delivery environment. Is this cultural change temporary or permanent?
News Outlets are calling the January 2022 phase of the omicron strain COVID the end-demic, predicting an attempt to return to an in-office and hybrid office business culture over the next 12 months. Yet businesses are watching the digital nomad culture dig into a new lifestyle. What will that mean for retailers who rely on the populated business districts? It means continued evolution as the new future of hybrid office work settles in.
Spanning across the country, the consensus is the workplace changes that will be in place for quite a while are a bit more varied than just a profound change in shipping habits, they are eye-opening to the values of the incoming workforce and power buyers in the next generations.
Work/Life Balance is Critical
Digital Nomads not only desire but require freedom and flexibility in their lifestyle. They value family, including their friend group, traveling, and will change jobs to ensure that there is not only time but the personal energy to bring all areas of their lives into balance.
~ No more working, shopping, and interacting while sick ~
This willingness to stay masked and at home during the expected end-demic flu and cold season means online shopping, personal shoppers, and delivery services will remain a part of the norm. Shopping at brick-and-mortar stores will become all about experience and social events.
~ Environmental choices before convenience ~
Commuting, single-use plastic, fast fashion, and less expensive imports are weighed against environmental concerns. Buying higher quality products as well as reusable or repairable items are now being saved for instead of the instant gratification of less expensive options. Jobs are looked at for remote options, ease of commute, and life balance before income.
Flexibility to manage kids at home is another critical issue for modern professional parents. School shutdowns with remote classes one month and in-person the next, have created a unique need for flexibility in their workday. Work-from-home parents are often pulling double duty as educators and workers. This creates an even bigger necessity for online and personal shopping. Personal care is even more important to these cultural group and they will maximize every opportunity to find a few moments for themselves. Not all of the changes are bad news for the local retailer. Shopping local, even when shopping online is a top value for today’s customers. Sites like Etsy make it easier to find small makers and support local businesses while keeping their digital transactions safe. There is skepticism about small sites without a big name like Shopify or PayPal as a payment gateway.
Online shoppers are still looking to connect to a human or community as personal interaction is a luxury right now. The traditional day-to-day work-life afforded us work friendships — something the hybrid workplace culture has not been able to readily recreate. Remote workers are feeling isolated and craving that human interaction making communities increasingly critical to fill that need. Walkable neighborhoods are being explored and local shops are being discovered. Groups are creating non-geographical communities and then using local neighborhoods as their meetups. Whether your independent business is hosting a virtual gathering or an in-person, your customers are looking to connect to other like minds.
According to this informal family poll, in-person events that are small, mindful of health risks, and dedicated to an interactive experience are the most appealing. Comfortable outdoor events where friends can meet and enjoy a shared experience seem to be the golden unicorn everyone is looking for. Family-friendly events and shopping is another big draw into a store as parents need to explore with their children beyond their walls. We can no longer assume any of our work or home lives will return to normal as usual as it was before 2019. But we must continue to watch, adjust, and evolve into this new hybrid lifestyle change that may be here to stay. And brick-and-mortar shops need to find ways to, once again, become indispensable to local communities.