What you need to know

COVID-19 has indeed wreaked havoc on the retail industry, but the market is already rebounding and re-emerging with force, embracing new changes as it moves forward. The pandemic has essentially rapidly accelerated efforts that were already in place, including initiatives such as curbside pickup, more personalized shopping services and increased integration of technology.

eCommerce has also been boosted to a point where half of consumers (and two thirds of Millennials) are making more than 50% of their purchases online. While some shoppers are heading back to stores now that the pandemic situation is improving, others will hold on to their newfound habits and routines that include a heavier dose of digitization in all shopping aspects.

Retailers will face challenges related to improving profitability, as most are now investing in tools, tech, partnerships and people to better position themselves for the future. Aggressive discounting strategies also remain prominent throughout the industry, which will put extra pressure on the bottom line. This, and increased costs from investments and those related to managing fulfillment of accelerated online orders means that retailers will take a more aggressive approach to looking for economies of scale across their businesses.

Despite ongoing challenges, retailers are being presented with a multitude of opportunities to better connect with customers based on their current and predicted priorities. Consumers are very value-focused and will continue to display caution relative to how they shop and spend. Retailers and brands will play a very important role in making consumers feel safe, supported and appreciated, both personally and financially. Key opportunities include enhancing personalized services and other offerings and bringing mission-driven initiatives more to the forefront.

This Report looks at the following areas

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and the retail industry, inclusive of ecommerce

  • How a recession, and now a recovery economy, is impacting consumers’ approach to prioritizing their expenditures

  • How consumers are shopping across channels by category

  • Which retailers are winning, and which are struggling

  • The types of promotions consumers prefer and how this might evolve

  • Key drivers of retailer preference

  • Top areas of interest as it pertains to tech at retail


This Report assesses the impact of COVID-19 on the retail industry, inclusive of ecommerce over the past year. An updated review of the size of the market with projected total sales and ecommerce sales isolated is also included. Consumer attitudes toward shopping, shopping behaviors and opportunities in the medium and longer term are discussed.

This Report builds upon Mintel’s The Impact of COVID-19 on Retail and eCommerce – US, June 2020, Changing Retail Landscape: Incl Impact of COVID-19 – US, September 2020 and In-Store Experiential Retailing – US, March 2021.

Research for this Report was fielded in April 2021 and it was written in May-June 2021.

Market context

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel bases its expectations for economic growth on projections provided by the CBO, the FOMC, the Conference Board and other public sources. Consensus estimates forecast US GDP to increase by 6.5% in 2021. Unemployment has been forecast to decline to as low as 4.1% by the end of 2021, with an average of 5.7% for the year.

COVID-19: US context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. It was declared a global health pandemic and national emergency in early March 2020. Across the US, various stay-at-home orders were put in place in Spring 2020, and nonessential businesses and school districts closed or shifted to remote operations. The remainder of 2020 saw rolling orders, as states and local governments relaxed and reinforced guidelines according to the spread of the virus in each region.

Vaccine roll-out began in December 2020. Mintel anticipates business operations in the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021 as vaccines are widely administered and social distancing restrictions and capacity limitations gradually relaxed.

Back to top