By: Sara Warden
2 min read December 2020 — Undoubtedly, retail was among the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With shelter in place orders imposed at the beginning of the year, retailers had to switch rapidly to online sales to have any hope of survival. Even as the economy re-opened, strict capacity restrictions were a weight on the shoulders of an industry that thrives on foot traffic. But amid the challenges, Orlando’s retailers are finding opportunity.
The format of retail is changing. No longer is it a space for only brick and mortar stores. For companies that can listen to demand and adapt, there is real opportunity. In fact, spending on retail as a whole in Florida is up during the pandemic, according to Tim Giuliani, Orlando Economic Partnership’s President and CEO. People now see the convenience of having their goods shipped directly to their homes, which in turn is boosting other industries, such as logistics and warehousing. According to Orlando Economic Partnership data, transportation, warehousing and utilities are already back to pre-pandemic levels and even showing growth.
Employees who can work from home are generally still staying put, which is undoubtedly putting pressure on the auxiliary services set up around business districts, such as dry cleaners, restaurants and gyms. But some still see the opportunity in strategically placed retail assets. Last month, East Coast Acquisitions acquired Osceola Village, a 122,845-square-foot, Publix-anchored retail center in Kissimmee in a $26.3-million transaction. At the time of the transaction, the shopping center was still 82.4% leased.
And retailers are finding new ways to get more traffic through the door. Walgreens Boots Alliance announced this month that Orlando would be one of the markets where its in-store primary care clinics would be rolled out. Orlando will be the only Florida city included in the initial rollout, which is contemplated to reach 500-700 stores in 30 markets in the next five years. Walmart is taking a similar tactic and plans to roll out Walmart Health clinics across Florida, including in Orlando.
But as the holiday season rolls around, there is strong evidence of a recovery. Traditionally, Florida retailers see 20% of their annual sales in November and December and 2020 seems to be no exception. Personal finance magazine Kiplinger’s forecasts a 29% increase in e-commerce compared to 2019 and a 5% increase in in-store sales. In Orlando, this was evident on Black Friday with packed shopping malls. Some stores at malls are offering curbside pickup for customers who do not want to go into the store.
If there is one silver lining from COVID, it is that it has taught many people to shop locally where possible. According to the Founder Institute, one of the major emerging retail trends is customers who prefer to shop local to support small businesses during challenging times. Social distancing is also easier to maintain in these settings than in malls, it adds.