The COVID–19 pandemic has shown us just how much the world can change in a matter of months. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines mandated across the country, online fashion sales have skyrocketed. As clicking through targeted Instagram ads and browsing web pages becomes the new shopping norm, what does the future hold for side-street fashion stores?

While certain industries—grocery stores, drugstores, discount retailers, and health foods, to name a few—have experienced unprecedented growth during the COVID–19 pandemic, the fashion world has fallen behind. When non–essential retailers were forced to close their doors, clothing companies began to conduct the majority of their business online—a change that looks like it’s here to stay.

The coronavirus pandemic has led more shoppers to realize just how convenient online shopping is. E-commerce can provide a cheaper, easier, and—most importantly—safer shopping experience than a trip to a brick–and–mortar location. While people will return to shopping in-person after the pandemic, they will likely do so in significantly smaller numbers.

And even after the majority of retailers complete the reopening process, industry experts forecast that consumers will find that some of their favorite stores, especially those reliant on foot traffic, will have shut down. While a handful of established retailers well-versed in the area of e-commerce managed to see success under the online model, many others have struggled to adapt. As businesses attempt to navigate this uncertain marketplace, the Gordon Brothers investment firm predicts that many as 25,000 stores could close permanently this year.

Moving forward, the fashion industry explained that retailers will need to adopt an omnichannel approach, which involves catering to consumers’ specific needs across multiple touch points both on and offline. 

Brick–and–mortar locations will continue to reopen slowly, these experts explained. However, COVID–19 era practices like limiting capacity, putting markings on the floor, or implementing booking systems may make it difficult for physical locations to generate revenue. Thus, in addition to building their online presence, fashion retailers must find a way to enhance the in-person buying experience in order to survive. As Pierre–Yves Roussel, CEO of Tory Burch, told Vogue, "[Retailers] will have to look at the performance of a store in a different way. It’s not going to be the traditional sales per square feet it’s going to be about the lifetime value to the customer, the relationship to the customer, and offering the customer every touch point and experience that is unique."

Street–side retailers will look to capitalize on the emotional aspect of in–person shopping as the reopening process continues by making community building a main focus. According to Vittorio Radice, a businessman and fashion magnate, words, retail locations have the opportunity to serve as "more of a place than a store: a safe place to be, a friendly place to be, a place that is always open for you."

Furthermore, by taking steps to reinvent packaging and offering up options for contactless shopping and curbside pick up businesses will ensure that customers can make the return to shopping in-store in a safe and personalized way. What customers want and need from the businesses they frequent has changed—in order to survive, retailers must be ready to adapt.

The pandemic has irrevocably changed the fashion industry and brick-and-mortar shops’ role in it. While retail will never be the same, by embracing innovative customer-centric business models, in–person shopping can still be a part of our new normal.