COVID, Retail’s Great Accelerator



Many retail trends have accelerated during our response to COVID. Thanks to the pandemic, many of us now prefer to shop online, pay at a contactless checkout, or get our purchases via curbside pick-up or home delivery.

In addition, we've been home a lot more than usual, and we've used that time to invest in our spaces. Some of us have had to convert living spaces into working spaces. Some of us have felt the need to clean up and cleanout. Whatever the motivation, we've enthusiastically purged our closets and cupboards, decluttered our kitchens and kids' rooms, and streamlined our stacks of stuff.

But what does all this mean for the Circular Economy?

Well, I'd say we were interested in eco-friendly solutions before COVID hit. But now, that interest has turned into genuine eagerness for change—and into real action in parts of the retail world.

The Resale Boom

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the growth of the resale market was impressive, but now, it is off the charts. Not only are resale companies like thredUP and Poshmark thriving, but traditional retailers are also building their own resale strategies to increase revenue.

Look no further than Walmart, which has invited the digital-based thredUP into the brick-and-mortar community. You'll now find a thredUP shop on Walmart.com, where you can choose from an assortment of nearly one million pre-owned items in women's and children's clothing, accessories, footwear, and handbags (WM). Customers also get benefits such as Walmart's free shipping on orders of $35 or more, as well as free returns to Walmart stores or thredUP.

This partnership is genius, as it plays to the strengths of each organization. It reduces the risk for each retailer, makes resale nearly frictionless for customers, and builds loyalty to both brands, all while bringing in new resale customers.

There is no sign this trend will reverse itself in 2022—or any time thereafter. According to Mercari's Reuse Report, the American market for secondhand goods is currently $140B, and it will balloon to more than $350B by 2030.

Consumers Coming Around to Circular

And those "COVID-cleanouts" I mentioned earlier? They've inspired people to reflect on better ways to replenish their spaces in the future.

One thing's for sure. Consumers are becoming less inclined to buy cheap, disposable items, particularly in the apparel and home goods categories. And that's a significant shift because this merchandise has been the backbone of American retail for decades.

More and more, consumers are opting for more conscientious and circular purchases. Retailers and brands that are unable to meet these needs may no longer be the customer's first, second, or even third choice. As a result, they'll miss out on the profitable sales needed to maintain a healthy balance sheet—and to fuel the investments that make it safer and easier to buy products in an increasingly integrated shopping environment.

The Power of Circular Design Thinking

​​Successful circularity programs aren't add-ons or afterthoughts—they're the result of intentional and focused design thinking.

According to an Accenture report, the design process influences 80% of a product's environmental impact. This is true, of course, when an item is first designed and produced. But it is also true when a product reaches the end of its life, and the consumer must dispose of it.

Design thinking is how circular change happens and how waste loops get closed.

Design thinking embraces regenerative approaches, such as upcycling and recycling waste.

What's more, retailers and brands committed to design thinking are making real inroads. They're building a new flywheel to change the inputs (creating demand for more earth-friendly products) and the infrastructure (creating greener partnerships, collection methods, and packaging). But most important, these companies are getting their customers to do things differently by turning eco-friendly thoughts into circular actions and habits.

Our Circular Future

COVID, of course, didn't instill these new attitudes and behaviors in consumers, nor did it create any of the circular-minded partnerships we now see cropping up in retail.

But COVID did accelerate—indeed, turbocharge—all these promising trends.

So now, we can seize this momentum to build a new path forward. A circular one. For all of us, and our planet, too.

I’d love to know more about your questions about how you can move forward with a circular approach for your organization. Please reach out to me at juli@jhl-solutions.com.




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