Varney pointed out that most retail stores are not allowing customers to try on products like clothes and shoes as a precaution, which he said is not good for business.
“I tried to buy a pair of shoes... But I couldn't try the shoes on," he said. "I could pay for them, take them home to see if they fit and bring them back for a refund if they didn't. But that’s not what I wanted. With shoes, you want to see how various colors and sizes look and fit. I didn't buy. Not good for me. And not good for the store.”
Not only did the store lose a sale, Varney said, but any pair of shoes returned must be held back before being restocked on the shelves to avoid contamination.
“How do you manage inventory?” he asked. “You can’t!”
Varney said a colleague ordered a pair of shoes and the retailer claimed that she could keep them and would receive a full refund if she wasn't satisfied.
“They are free,” he said. “How do you manage a business like that?”
According to Varney, brick and mortar retail has already been in trouble for years, calling it the “retail ice age” even before the coronavirus swept through. Now being closed for months, limiting capacity in stores and no dressing rooms are putting the industry at higher risk.
“No wonder they've got problems,” he said. “It’s not their fault. It’s the new reality. The point is, our culture of consumption is going to shift. ‘Shopping,’ as we used to know it, will not be quite the same.”
Varney said with no trying on or sampling items, consumers might as well order online and save a trip. The heart of retail’s problem, he said, is social distancing and fear of coronavirus transmission, both of which are here to stay.
“We're getting used to the changes,” he said. “We might not like them, but we've been keeping our distance and avoiding contact for months. We've adopted new habits, new patterns of life. Retail, it’s very hard to see us going back entirely to the pre-virus, shopping and consumption patterns of just four months ago.”
According to Coresight Research, he said, up to 25,000 stores are expected to close this year, whereas, in 2019, only 9,000 did.
“The look and feel of America is changing fast,” he said.