The Five Most Important Retail Events of 2020 Had Almost Nothing to Do With COVID-19

Oh, what a year — the coronavirus pandemic dominated the headlines in 2020, and rightfully so. However, the year was also punctuated by some important retail milestones that had nothing to do with the pandemic itself, milestones that, when one stops to look at them, say a heck of a lot more about where retail is headed than some umpteenth, ad nauseam story about the virus accelerating e-commerce or curbside pickup at darn near every retailer in the country.

No, and as put forth last year, 2019 was the real tipping point, not 2020. 2020 was just a supercharged, microbial extension of what was a preexisting groundswell. A foundational transformation was already underway, and, while many companies reaped the rewards of shifting their operations towards pandemic-induced changes in shopping behavior, many of these actions would have happened organically over time regardless.

The real headlines, the headlines that mattered the most in 2020, were far more subtle and substantive. Look closely, and they either confirmed suspicions already out there or hinted at the next brushstrokes on a still-to-be-painted canvas far more than some plexiglass divider on a checklane ever will.

Here then, and in order of importance, were the biggest events in retail over the past year, all of which had almost nothing to do with COVID-19:

The department store was shown to have no clothes
There is no sense beating a dead horse on this one, but, if 2020 proved anything, it is that the “why,” as in, “Why come to a physical store to shop?” will always matter. Department stores haven’t had a why for some time now. Is it convenience? Is it inspiration? Is it immediate gratification? Touch and feel? Experience?

No. No. No. No. And, no. It’s none of them.

Look at the comparative set, and department stores lose across all five dimensions.

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Forbes.com, Chris Walton