Why some retailers succeed despite big disruptions

The retail industry was already in the midst of unparalleled disruption—then came COVID-19.

Wharton marketing professor Barbara Kahn, author of “The Shopping Revolution: How Retailers Succeed in an Era of Endless Disruption Accelerated by COVID-19,” examines the companies that have been most successful during a tsunami of change in the industry.

Person wearing a mask hanging a “We’re Open” sign on a window of a retail store.

One anomaly of the pandemic is Amazon: While 12,000 retail stores closed in 2020, Amazon continues to open stores. “Perhaps the best example, that the pandemic absolutely accelerated,” say Kahn, “was this idea of ‘buy online, pick up in the store.’ That idea is that you’ll shop online, you’ll search online, and you’ll order what you want to order. Then you’ll go to the store and pick it up in your car, very conveniently. To me, that’s an example of the seamless integration, omnichannel experience from the customer perspective, and that’s what is going to emerge when we come out of the pandemic.”

In her book, Kahn points to Chinese companies as models of a “new retail” trend across the industry. “A lot of analysts—and I agree with this—think Chinese retail is way ahead of U.S. retail,” she says. “What the pandemic has done is, again, accelerate all these trends that we had already seen happening and make them even more important in the U.S. These trends that we started to see in the U.S. were far advanced in China.”

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.