Sign advertising Contactless Curbside Pickup at retail store parking lot

In a just-released survey of retail real estate executives by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a majority of respondents expect foot traffic to return to “pre-pandemic levels” by year-end.

The report also showed how the record-setting growth of online shopping has transformed physical retailing, with most stores offering “click and collect” options as well as curbside pickup to meet the demands of safety-minded shoppers.

The research involved polling 400 executives from retailers and commercial real estate companies.

“After safety protocols, brought about by the pandemic, caused sharp declines in foot traffic, 60 percent of CRE leaders and 55 percent of retailers expect a return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year — a testament to the resilience of consumers and a strong desire to safely visit brick-and-mortar retail,” the ICSC said in the report.

The organization also noted that the pandemic propelled retailers and retail real estate firms to transform physical retailing via various innovations in response to changes in how consumers shop. Researchers at the ICSC said two-thirds of retailers polled “began offering in-store fulfillment of online orders in response to the pandemic, while 73 percent of small retailers implemented a click-and-collect option.”

And according to the CRE executives surveyed, “an overwhelming 88 percent of shopping centers are being used to fulfill online orders.” The report also revealed that 99 percent of retail respondents “reported their stores fulfilled online orders to some degree.”

Tom McGee, president and chief executive officer of the ICSC, said that for retail and retail real estate, “the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t spurred a total reinvention, but a rapid acceleration of trends that were already taking shape.”

“Stores were already offering curbside pickup, ramping up click-and-collect and rethinking store formats,” McGee said. “What we’ve seen since March [of 2020] is a remarkable expansion of that, which will create a better experience for consumers as they return to stores and shopping centers. Retail is one of the most resilient industries, and this continued adaptation is indicative of that ingenuity.”

The ICSC also said retailers and CRE companies have “planned targeted investments in digital marketing and online storefronts to keep up with the convergence of online and physical retail.”

The survey showed that 78 percent of those polled “say their marketing efforts will center around the digital customer experience, while 73 percent noted in-store sales were a priority.”

“Retail has proven itself to be integral to our economy, its recovery and our communities,” McGee said. “The investments made by retailers and CRE companies to prioritize safety have been definitive markers of successful adaptation during the pandemic, and the work they’ve done to enhance their omnichannel strategies better positions our industry to withstand future disruption.”