Retailers and CRE Companies Optimistic About Strong Recovery, Continued Transformation in 2021

Pandemic-induced changes propelled the industry to evolve at a faster pace to meet consumer demand

NEW YORK--()--The retail real estate industry is optimistic about recovery and the innovative future of stores and shopping centers, according to a new ICSC survey of retailers and commercial real estate (CRE) companies. After safety protocols brought about by the pandemic caused sharp declines in foot traffic, 60% of CRE leaders and 55% 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.

Simultaneously, the pandemic propelled retailers and retail real estate through years’ worth of transformation in a matter of months, and leaders expect a wave of innovation – in both offerings and store formats – to continue as the “store of the future” becomes a reality.

The survey found two-thirds of retailers began offering in-store fulfillment of online orders in response to the pandemic, while 73% of small retailers implemented a click-and-collect option. According to CRE leaders, an overwhelming 88% of shopping centers are being used to fulfill online orders. Nearly all (99%) of retail respondents reported their stores fulfilled online orders to some degree.

“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,” said Tom McGee, President and CEO of ICSC. “Stores were already offering curbside pickup, ramping up click-and-collect and rethinking store formats. What we’ve seen since March 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.”

These changes have proven vital over the last 11 months, and the industry is prepared to make the necessary investment. Both retailers and CRE firms have planned targeted investments in digital marketing and online storefronts to keep up with the convergence of online and physical retail. Still, respondents intend to invest both online and in-store: Seventy-eight percent of large retailers say their marketing efforts will center around the digital customer experience, while 73% noted in-store sales were a priority.

At brick-and-mortar locations, consumers are beginning to see what the store of the future might entail – and how it was shaped by the pandemic. Retailers and CRE firms have worked to increase accessibility for quick trips (46% and 50%, respectively), and three-in-four retailers have used their parking lots to accommodate curbside pickup.

The resilience demonstrated by companies’ quick pivots and rapid transformation was critical for the industry, which accounts for one-in-four jobs in the U.S. and is a vital part of the country’s economic recovery. While the 2021 outlook among industry leaders is positive, the impact felt during lockdown as a result of forced closures and restrictions left many retailers in need of financial assistance. At the local level, stores and shopping centers are an essential part of their communities, and both industry leaders and consumers are eager to return as restrictions lift.

With safety top of mind, stores plan to sustain the changes made during the height of the pandemic for the foreseeable future. Nearly 80% of small CRE firms are likely to continue using plexiglass barriers to protect employees and shoppers over the next 12 months, and 76% reported a plan to continue shortened hours – compared to just 53% of larger firms. Large CRE firms have prioritized increased sanitation (76%) over other restrictions, while independent retailers (58%) are prioritizing crowd management.

“Retail has proven itself to be integral to our economy, its recovery and our communities,” said McGee. “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.”


The survey was conducted online by OnR on behalf of ICSC between October 29 and November 10, 2020. The findings represent a demographically representative sample of 400 U.S. respondents. Respondents were comprised of executives from 277 retailers and representatives from 107 CRE companies and included independent retailers with annual revenue under $45 million (small retailers); retailers with revenue from $45 million to $3 billion (mid-sized retailers); and large chains with revenue over $3 million (large retailers). Among CRE companies, participants included firms with gross leasable area (GLA) under 6 million square feet (small CRE), and CRE companies with GLA over 6 million square feet (large CRE).

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Shannon Troy, Media Relations Manager


Shannon Troy, Media Relations Manager