From The Co-Founders


Strategic insights and commentary from The ROI Co-Founders, Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt
Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists LLC; Retail Turnaround Experts


As the global efforts to "flatten the curve" of the coronavirus pandemic continue, there is another curve that is being flattened. That would be the seasonality of retail sales. 

And this may prove to be what really defines the New Normal for retailers. 

The customary peaks of retail spending have been flattened.


Is 2020 continuing to wear you down? No surprise. And no shame in that!

Retailers are among the most optimistic folks we know. But the relentlessness of the disruptions and in some cases tragedies of the three pandemics – the virus, the economic meltdown, and the civil unrest – followed by the wildfires in the West and the hurricanes in the Southeast, now compounded by the uncertainties of national election. Oh, and then there's the impending flu season. And... And...

It IS a lot. And it feels as if there is no relief in sight. But maybe there is. 


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Believe it! A second chance to make a good first impression!

Yes, the shoppers WILL be returning. But boy, have they learned a lot during these pandemic times. 

They are far more comfortable with online shopping, and in many cases, eager to continue that. And the convenience of "contactless" features like curbside pickup and BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) are welcomed.

In fact, an extensive survey from McKinsey & Company* provides considerable detail about the newly-learned online shopping behaviors of customers, and their expectations of continuing to use these new-found skills. 

Particular changes with presumed staying power: 

  • More online shopping
  • Less brand loyalty
  • Need for "hygiene transparency"
  • Back to basics & value
  • Rise of the homebody economy

But hold it. Wait just a minute. Our countervailing view is that the "homebody economy" will wear thin. And while customers do care even more about basics and value, especially when it comes to Holiday shopping, they will want "special." 


"Retailing dead?" Hardly!

“Retailing” is selling to the ultimate consumer. That is not going away, in spite of the current perception. 

What IS (appropriately!) endangered? Deadly retail real estate! 
Conventional, impersonal, and boring brick-n-mortar stores are deadly.


Many Americans who can afford to save money – thanks to reduced spending on eating out, vacations, and consumer goods – are playing it safe and hoarding their cash, according to recent research by Gallup/Franklin Templeton.* 

And those who currently are saving at least a little money largely plan to keep saving rather than spending in the near term.

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We once knew a lady of an earlier generation who steadfastly championed the idea that Labor Day should be considered New Year's Eve, and the Tuesday after Labor Day as the start of the New Year. (Yes, she was ahead of her time in many other ways as well.)

Here's her reasoning about the "real" New Year's Eve: as summer fades away and vacations end, the new school year starts up; the baseball season pennant race is on; football games begin. As all this happens, she explained, most people take on a renewed sense of energy. 

The promise of a fresh start is everywhere. Optimism abounds!  

Wouldn't 2020 be a great year to cut short? Aren't we all ready to turn the page on it?

Well, while we cannot do it officially, we can embrace that New Year state of mind. 

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Since Labor Day in the US is the first Monday in September, this year it happens as late as possible. Labor Day will not be celebrated until next Monday, September 7. 

Most years, most folks would be perfectly happy to have August stretched out even longer. Ahh, those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, right?

  • Well, we DO have the "crazy" part down pretty well. And "hazy"  rings true too, as the fog of uncertainty persists.
  • And now, imagine it: a Zoom Thanksgiving... OMG!

And so, meanwhile, we regard Consumer Confidence as THE key indicator of consumer spending. Just last week, the Conference Board reported that Consumer confidence is at a six year low*. Ouch!

But, was that a surprise to retailers? Not really. Most retailers are well along in coping with these challenges. 

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"Of course I want it today. If I wanted it tomorrow, I would have come in tomorrow." 

That's what we call "retail time." Retailers are comfortable with that pace; they enjoy the variety; they welcome the need to change and adjust. 

But, instead of just keeping life interesting, 2020 seems to have gone overboard in bringing changes and disruption to us all. The triple pandemic of the virus, the economy, and the civil unrest. And oh yes, it's also an election year. Enough already, right?

We think the most challenging part of this is the effect on our sense of time.