Retail resiliency in 2020 and beyond

Matthew Shay
President and CEO

Facing an unprecedented global pandemic, social and political unrest and an economic downturn, the retail industry proved its resiliency in 2020 and kept America moving forward.

Since the start of the pandemic, many retailers have stayed open as true “economic first responders.” According to NRF’s recent consumer survey, the majority of consumers (61 percent) say they depend on physical stores being open to meet the shopping needs of themselves and their families. Companies sprang into action to find new ways to safely serve customers, including special shopping hours for at-risk groups, limited store capacity, social distancing signage and requirements, robust cleaning protocols and mask mandates.

Beyond the store, retailers stepped up to support their communities. They made donations to relief groups and medical research amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, offered free food delivery and discounts for health care workers, and pivoted operations to manufacture and distribute PPE.

COVID-19 resources

Learn more about navigating retail during the pandemic here.

Companies recognized the critical role of their employees — who quickly and patiently adapted to new policies and procedures — with wage increases, bonuses and extended sick and paid leave.

As consumers shifted much of their shopping online, retailers expanded ecommerce capabilities and integrated them with in-store options — in many cases completing projects in a few months that previously would have taken years. State-of-the-art distribution and fulfillment centers were built to manage the influx of online orders, and innovations like curbside pickup, contactless payment, appointment shopping and virtual showrooms emerged to give consumers the ability to shop safely, however they wanted. This was particularly critical during the busy holiday shopping season: In a recent NRF consumer survey, 70 percent of holiday shoppers said they felt safe shopping in stores, given the precautions retailers have taken for COVID-19.

Through it all, the industry put competition aside in the interest of the health and safety of their associates and customers. NRF’s Operation Open Doors program brought hundreds of retail leaders together to share learnings and create a roadmap for operating safely and responsibly. Retail CEOs and leaders provided valuable insight about managing teams and operations during the crisis through the NRF Retail Leadership Series.

Small retailers and Main Street businesses have struggled the most throughout the pandemic — 98 percent of retail companies are small businesses. The NRF Foundation collaborated with Qurate Retail Group, Inc. on the Small Business Spotlight, giving visibility across QVC, HSN and Zulily to approximately 60 small businesses impacted by the pandemic. We’re continuing this commitment to shine a light on small businesses in 2021.

Today, retailers are playing an important role in vaccine distribution. Grocers and pharmacies including Kroger, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens are supporting the rollout in various capacities with their highly trained staff and impressive supply chains, starting with vaccines for health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities nationwide. 

No matter the test, retailers will always stand with their employees, their customers and their communities by working together to overcome challenges, create opportunities, and to lead as an example for others to follow.

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