As more businesses reopen under Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington plan, retail industries, particularly apparel and footwear, grapple with necessary changes to ensure customer and staff safety. Dean Holly of Thomas Dean & Co., whose career with Nordstrom spans 28 years, spoke to how retailers can succeed in reopening.

Image Courtesy of Thomas Dean & Co. LLC.

Holly spoke in the Future of Retail webinar recently presented by the Bellevue Chamber as part of its Future of Leadership series.

During the webinar, Holly revealed that an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 apparel and footwear stores will permanently close in 2020. He also stated that 55 to 60 percent of this closure will be in malls.

“Now, I will say we live in a bubble in Bellevue, we’re very fortunate. Bellevue Square … is not a typical mall, at all,” Holly told the virtual audience. Rather, he explained, smaller regional malls would most likely be the ones impacted by permanent closures due to COVID-19.

Holly emphasized the importance of sales associates in making sure customers feel safe when stores reopen.

“I think, the sales personnel are key to the success of opening. They are the face, facing the customer, and talking to them. And when they have confidence that the appropriate safety measures have been established and there’s a clear and understandable process in place, that can be conveyed to the customer,” he said.

Among other concerns, Holly noted the changing standards for environmental sustainability from young consumers will affect the apparel and footwear industry moving forward. Sustainability in product materials and packaging will matter, Holly said, but he also explained how COVID-19 has impacted these choices including the return of plastic shopping bags.

Moving forward, Holly discussed how apparel and footwear retailers will succeed.

“Since we’re a tech area, technology is going to make a big change,” Holly said, explaining the five ways technological advances will help retail succeed after COVID-19, including in-store customer counts as well as kiosk checkouts.

After Holly gave his presentation, he took questions from participants — including from those who lease out retail spaces — fielded by Bellevue Chamber President and CEO, Joe Fain. One participant questioned whether square footage needs would need to be increased because of social distancing or if they would decrease as online sales increase.

In his response, Holly emphasized that brick and mortar storefronts will not go away — particularly in an area like Bellevue — but that they will change. He explained that social distancing will not last forever and some stores may become smaller as more technological advances arise.

Bellevue Square is scheduled to reopen June 30.

To watch the full webinar, visit the Bellevue Chamber online.