Retail Insider, in partnership with Novomind, held its first Zoom Cocktail Hour with Retail Futurist Howard Saunders, founder of Twenty Second & Fifth, who considered where the industry is heading and how consumer behaviour is dramatically changing.

There was no escaping Covid-19 in Howard’s assessment which determined the world is in the midst of a major reboot that will change the way people work, travel, purchase, and socialise for the foreseeable future.

“We’ve come to learn new behaviours, like buying online. We’ve educated ourselves about what online can do and you can’t go back. Online is a learned behaviour. We’ve had patterns and then the black swan has flown in and we’ve changed. A lot of this will stick. And this is being extrapolated across the whole world,” he says.

Senior executives from across the retail industry including Amazon, British Land, Honest Burger, The Watch Shop, and JML Group debated the future direction of the retail industry and heard Howard predict that a heightened level of nervousness was now prevalent and has led human beings to become what he describes as “Homo Trepidatious”.

“We’ve utterly complied with every single [government] rule. We’ll all now settle down and go out less. The nervousness has not [fully] hit yet. We’ve created a nervous race. We always assume that we’ll live in a way that we’ve always lived but it shifts by generation. Covid-19 has been a slap in the face and there will now be caution and worry. We’ve become homo trepidatious,” he suggests.

(click here to see Howard’s predictions for the 2020s)

The impact will be reflected in places like restaurants where the wider population might be simply too scared to visit and they become places solely for younger risk-averse people: “Young people know they are not at risk and they perceive the restrictions as protecting the elderly, frail and scared.”

Tourism and city centres will also be massively hit in contrast to more provincial areas where Covid-19 will provide something of a revitalisation of business as people shop locally and work from home.

“When you look at London, all the people are tourists and visitors. It’s not just people working locally. If you overlay this on Oxford Circus then it’s terrifying. But out in the sticks it will be much healthier. We’ve come to love our butcher, baker and candlestick maker. We’ve learnt these new behaviours – like online and shopping local,” he says.

Other positive outcomes include the potential that the virus will be the catalyst for new young businesses to emerge and replace the ailing legacy operators who will be hit hard over the next few years. There will also be a shift towards brands that have more meaningful agendas. “We’ll choose brands that have humanity. The premium on humanity will mean more than ever,” says Saunders.

This ties in with the emotions that are being pent-up and which should, he predicts, result in a bumper Christmas as people gravitate towards gift-giving to much-missed loved ones, family and friends.

Retail Insider would very much like to thank Howard Saunders for sharing his insights and also to Novomind for supporting the maiden Retail Insider Zoom Cocktail Hour.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider