Retail 2021 and Looking Forward to 2022: A hybrid Future

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“The impact of the pandemic can be seen on retail, as there has been a wave of store closures across UK high streets.”


Retail has had a difficult 20 months, along with many other sectors. From emerging out of lockdowns only to go back in; to the classification of essential and non-essential retail and to the substantial increase in online sales, it has been difficult for retailers to plan their retail activities and trade successfully. The impact of the pandemic can be seen on retail, as there has been a wave of store closures across UK high streets.

From the consumer point of view, we have seen a substantial change in shopping habits with consumers gravitating to shopping online, with online sales reaching peak of 37.7% of total retail sales in January 2021.

However, perhaps the picture is not as bleak as we might fear and what might the future hold for retail in 2022? There are four key reasons that allow us to be hopeful for the future of retail.

Firstly, consumers are seeking a return to shopping in person. The ONS data shows, that once lockdowns are over and consumers feel safe, they will return the high street, a good example of this is how in August 2021, online sales dropped to 25.9% of total retail sales. Simply put, the high street offers what online cannot – the immediate satisfaction of a purchase, the ability to try on garments, a social experience as we shop with others and a holistic experience as shop, socialise and stop for food and drink.

Secondly, research from the British Independent Retailers Association shows that consumers have shopped much more locally with 72% of independent retailers reporting an increase in sales post lockdown. As consumers were forced to stay local due to government restrictions, consumers have fallen in love with new brands, connected with their community and benefitted from the personal approach that small retailers can offer. Consumers may have even become much more thoughtful about where they spend and the positive impact that such spending, can have on their community.

Thirdly, consumers are keen to spend and the Black Friday sales data, illustrates this with spending volumes higher than 2019. The John Lewis retail reports show us that as consumers shopped in person after lockdown there was a significant increase in the sales of cleansers (grew by 82%) and lip liners with a 386% increase in sales. Also Hot Tub sales were up 200%.

Finally, a hybrid model of retail is emerging as the key to success. Consumers have got used to shopping online and collecting in-store (BOPIS – buy online pick up in-store) or looking at products in-store and then buying online (this is known as showrooming) or bouncing between in-store and online (this is known as boomerooming). We have also seen the rapid openings of Amazon Fresh in London with their just walk out technology and now Sainsbury’s and Tesco trialling similar technology. The pandemic has forced technology to be integrated into everyday life e.g. with at table app ordering and click and collect, so consumers are expected to be able to move seamlessly between the online and the offline. Successful retailers will integrate technology harmoniously into their retail operations to create much soughtafter seamless experiences.

In conclusion, whilst there is no doubt that once again retail will face a difficult start to the year, as we emerge from the pandemic we will see new business models, we will see retail success and consumers will still want to spend.