Retail is having a Darwin moment that will transform it forever

The pandemic is cleaning out the old stock and forcing everyone else to evolve in ways that will endure long after the crisis has passed.

Retail is having a Darwin moment. Businesses that can adapt to the realities of COVID-19 are doing so quickly while those that can’t are dying out—which probably needed to happen. The result will be a healthier Main Street that can better compete with online natives and offers better services for consumers.

Even before the pandemic, retail was evolving fast, and the old guard was struggling to keep up. Over the past two years, giants such as Walmart, Amazon, and Target consistently rolled out shorter delivery times, bigger inventories, and lower prices, while D2C brands such as Warby Parker and Everlane built modern physical interiors that made older stores look unappealing. Meanwhile, restaurants were being pressured by DoorDash and Uber Eats to find new ways to serve customers.

As a facilities management leader, I have seen the pandemic increase these pressures and force malls, retailers, and restaurants to evolve in ways they needed to to survive for the long haul. That’s meant providing better online services along with curbside pickup, patio dining, and cleaner interiors—things customers would appreciate in any environment. In short, the pandemic is cleaning out the old stock and forcing everyone else to transform in ways that will endure long after the crisis has passed.

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Malls, for instance, were already in decline as mainstays such as JCPenney, Lord & Taylor, and Brooks Brothers struggled to attract a younger clientele and fell into bankruptcy. The pandemic has opened the door for more modern brands such as Bonobos and AllBirds to take advantage of cheaper leases and move into those spaces. Some malls are even working with Amazon to install high-tech grocery stores and distribution centers, turning what was once a threat to physical retail into a partner in its survival.

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