• CNBC

Covid changed shopping forever. Here’s what it means for your favorite stores

PUBLISHED THU, DEC 24 20207:00 AM EST

Lauren Thomas@LAURENTHOMAS KEY POINTS


  • The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to online shopping.

  • Stores are being transformed into mini warehouses, helping to fulfill online orders in a fraction of the time — and at a lower cost.

  • And while stores at enclosed shopping malls are closing due to slowing foot traffic and falling sales, retailers from Gap to Abercrombie & Fitch are investing in opening smaller locations away from malls.


Academy Sports & Outdoors’ more than 250 stores shuttered for weeks in the early days of the Covid pandemic. But as lockdown orders eased and these stores reopened, many customers still didn’t feel comfortable coming inside to buy camping gear or a new basketball, according to CEO Ken Hicks. Items like bikes and treadmills, which Academy sells, have been in high demand, as Americans look to entertain themselves outside or keep fit without a gym. But Academy needed to find a better way to get its products into customers’ hands. The answer was curbside pickup.

In under five days, the retailer pulled together a plan to offer the service nationwide, Hicks said. It designated parking spaces as pickup locations, reassigned staff and handed out paging devices to alert employees when shoppers drive in. The result: 30% of Academy’s buy online, pick up in store sales are now retrieved curbside by customers, often on the day of purchase, the CEO said.

Academy has started to think about its stores as “delivery points,” Hicks said in a recent interview. Back rooms are stocked with extra merchandise to fulfill web orders. More items are being shipped from its stores, not warehouses, directly to shoppers’ homes, he said. Even with a nearly 96% surge in e-commerce orders during the third quarter ended Oct. 31, more than 95% of Academy’s $1.35 billion in sales were fulfilled using its stores. “We’ve had to change how we look at the use of labor and adjust similar to what grocery stores have done,” Hicks added. “We have people now whose job it is to go around and pick orders for us.”

Academy is far from alone in making these adjustments. Retailers from Target to Nike to Macy’s have been reckoning for years with what the purpose of their stores will be as consumption shifts online. This year, that evolution leapt forward.

For years, the rise of e-commerce was a harbinger that retailers’ stores were going to become obsolete. But the demand for speedy, same-day