(Bloomberg) -- Michelle Gass, chief executive officer of Kohl’s Corp., has spent the past two months of the department store chain’s near-total shutdown pondering what life will be like for the company after the Covid-19 pandemic. As big and small U.S. retailers tiptoe back to business, she knows it won’t be the same for any of them.
“The role of brick-and-mortar retail, restaurants and settings where customers and people congregate is really going to change,” Gass said Tuesday at a Goldman Sachs virtual event aimed at helping small businesses. “As everybody gets more comfortable to transact online, why are you going to go in a store?”
It’s a crucial question facing retailers as they reopen across the U.S., especially smaller merchants that don’t have robust e-commerce operations or strong balance sheets to prop them up. The outbreak has made shoppers comfortable with buying in new ways, such as using curbside pickup, Gass said. Businesses should look at the shutdown as a reset, she said, a chance to revisit or speed up ideas that had been on the back burner, because change will be essential as stores reopen.
“The bar is raised on what experience you’re creating inside that brick-and-mortar,” Gass said. “This period has heightened and accelerated all of these things for consumers and for businesses like us, both small and large.”
Small-business owners across the country have been battered by the pandemic, with many facing a cash crunch. As of June 3, the Small Business Administration reported that 4.5 million firms had received approvals for loans totaling $511 billion. But many were left out of the program or didn’t apply altogether. Goldman Sachs last month said it had committed $500 million to small businesses in under-served U.S. communities in the U.S. The average loan size was $63,800, the New York-based bank said.
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Kohl’s has reopened most of its more than 1,100 locations in recent weeks. But unlike the department store chain, most small retailers are almost wholly reliant on their immediate communities. Even when all of Kohl’s stores were shut, Gass still had the retailer’s online shop, which accounts for about 25% of its business. Many local shops either generate only a small percentage of their sales online, or none at all.
Also on the panel were Gene Lee, CEO of Darden Restaurants Inc., the parent of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, and Jide Zeitlin, who runs Tapestry Inc., operator of the Coach and Kate Spade fashion brands. Both pointed to other shifts in their industries.
In the next big trend for dining, patrons will order their food before they go to restaurants, Lee said. He expects ordering ahead to catch on broadly in three to five years, and said his business, along with neighborhood restaurants, must keep up.
The turmoil brought on by the coronavirus crisis, Zeitlin said, is forcing Tapestry to mine all parts of its business for fresh ideas. Its smallest brand, Stuart Weitzman, hosted a live-streamed shopping show from a store in China. Coach stores in the region copied that tactic, which was then adopted by Kate Spade in the U.S., with videoconferencing parties for customers.
It ended up becoming “a big business” during the lockdown. “These are unprecedented times,” Zeitlin said. “There is no playbook for a lot of what we’re doing.”
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