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Over the past 18 months, stores that had no other way to serve their customers put in place a variety of services: curbside pickup, virtual concierge and online personal shopping to name a few. They were born out of necessity, but many of these pandemic protocols are here to stay, retailers say, because shoppers love the speed and convenience.

“Curbside pickup we put in place because of the pandemic. We’re going to keep it in place because we have to – the customer has spoken,” says Chris Sallans, vice-president of Best Buy retail and Geek Squad operations. “Last year, it was about accommodating how shoppers had to shop. This year, it’s about accommodating how they want to shop.

“The one-on-one shopping experience is still the most popular option with our customers who often want to feel the weight of a laptop or check out the picture on a television rather than purchase it sight unseen,” he continues. “However, during the last fiscal year we saw online pickup in stores increase 128 per cent. People have become more comfortable buying remotely and the way they shop has fundamentally changed.”

Other retailers agree. “So many of the alternative ways to shop have been embraced by our customers … from curbside pickup to Uber Eats delivery from our cafés,” says Natalie Penno, senior vice-president of retail at Holt Renfrew. “One of the great initiatives that we launched at the beginning of the pandemic was our online assisted shopping experience,” which allows shoppers to connect with a store associate for style advice and curated browsing.

Alix Box, a senior vice-president at Nordstrom Canada, says COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of convenience and connection to customers. “At Nordstrom, we were early adopters of services like free standard shipping and returns, online order pickup and curbside services at all our stores.” During the pandemic, she adds, they offered additional options including virtual styling, livestream shopping events and free gift wrapping.

With the holiday season fast approaching – and the supply and delivery system still under strain – Best Buy has added three new delivery services to meet delivery demand, Sallans says. “COVID taught many of us how to enjoy other parts of our life instead of spending hours making a shopping decision. The customer’s value of their own time is higher than we’ve ever experienced.”

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