Summer 2020 Retail Compass banner

Consumer confidence: contact, controls and connections

28 August 2020

We asked Laura Saunter from trend forecasting giant WGSN (by Ascential) to give her insights on what’s next for consumer behaviour in light of Covid-19. WGSN is the world’s leading consumer and design trend authority, serving the fashion and creative industries with market leading products.

What things have successful brands done to combat the downturn in 2020 and what things should brands be planning next?

The Covid-19 pandemic has driven a shift towards a frictionless, low-impact society in which brands and consumers have little to no interaction within a physical space. The future of the retail space will have to adapt to a consumer who wants to control how much they opt in or out of human interaction, as they forge their own in-store experience. Strategies will need to allow for little to no human connection, while still providing excellent service.

We can expect to see a continuation of no-contact delivery services as well as to-go formats, with more drive-thru facilities implemented for the food and leisure industries. Leveraging digital ordering, which minimises human contact and reduces time in the store itself, will also be key.

Reducing friction and offering a low-touch but high-impact, fast and efficient experience that forgoes the need for human contact will be increasingly key. We can expect to see a rise in frictionless payments, more spaced out fitting rooms and cashier-less stores as consumers increasingly prioritise a sterile environment amid concerns around infection. No-touch technology – such as voice activated door handles and contactless tills – will be a priority as hygiene becomes a selling point pan industry, as well as anti-bacterial material innovations for carpets and fitting room dividers.

Designing for distance will also mean that store navigation needs to echo the one-way systems that grocery stores have implemented during the Covid-19 outbreak, creating additional space between shoppers.

Opening hours might also need to be adjusted as people want to shop at less busy times. Customer service will need to pivot so that consumers have more control and space – for example, we will see a rise in try-before-you-buy services translating from online to in-store, where shoppers can take items away to try on at home.

What lessons can UK retailers learn from international success stories in 2020?

Crisis always leads to a reassessment. In most cases we will find that people will be less inclined to buy traditional hard luxury items - priorities will shift towards saving and budgeting in light of the impending recession, and aspirations will move from wanting a designer handbag towards something more meaningful, such as health and wellbeing, travel, security and time spent with loved ones. However we can’t discount the fact that there will be some consumers who will want to spend on themselves more than ever once the situation has stabilised. We’ve seen “revenge spending” in China already and to an extent this will happen globally as people adopt a hedonistic mindset and self-gift once lockdown lifts. We will also see more consumers buying smaller luxury items such as fragrance, cosmetics and candles during this time as new self-care rituals come to the fore.

What lasting effects will we see after 2020 in terms of online and physical stores?

Luxury retailers have further to go to adapt to eCommerce. This is largely because most luxury consumers prefer to shop in-store, and several luxury brands (Chanel, Goyard for example) don’t have transactional eCommerce sites - so moving to a digital-first strategy and looking at new ways to engage online like through live-streaming and IGTV are going to be paramount. We’ve already seen luxury brands like Patek Philippe and Delvaux pivoting to selling online for the first time ever as a result of the pandemic, while white glove services have also had to shift online - brands will have to think about Zoom consultations and virtual personal styling sessions going forwards as luxury clients want to have a low-impact but still very high-touch and personalised purchasing experience.

How can brands restore consumer confidence?

The global pandemic has been a really good opportunity for many brands to pivot, hitting reset on how they operate, and thinking of inventive and creative ways to give back. While we’ve seen many big luxury players making large philanthropic donations, it’s the really meaningful shifts – such as brands giving their factories over to produce PPE and hand sanitiser and keeping sewing teams in work by producing masks – that will stay on top of consumers’ minds for longer. Going forward, business success will increasingly be defined by how much a company adds value to people’s lives, what it contributes to society and how it stands up to support those in need. With the pandemic exposing Government shortfalls on a global scale, brands will be under the spotlight.


This interview was conducted with with Laura Saunter, Senior Insight Strategist, WGSN (Ascential) as part of RPC's Retail Compass Summer edition 2020. For more information visit