Womble Bond Dickinson Real Estate Partner Morris Ellison recently explored COVID-19’s impact on online shopping and brick-and-mortar retailers in a keynote address at the Economic Growth and Real Estate Summit, presented by Coastal Carolina University’s Grant Center for Real Estate and Economics.

Ellison reported that e-commerce sales reached record highs in 2020. As the pandemic has receded, growth of e-commerce has slowed, but it still makes up a significant portion of retail sales, and big box retailers are investing in the technology infrastructure necessary to remain competitive in the online retail market.

But in-person sales have rebounded strongly from the early months of the pandemic. Customers remain motivated to buy in-store in large part so they can get their goods without delay, Ellison said.  Ellison also explored the impact of supply chain constraints and a tighter labor market on retailers, big and small.  

Many retailers are exploring the so-called “BOPIS” (Buy Online, Pick Up In Store) model. This blended approach combines the immediacy of in-store shopping with the convenience of online retail. But the BOPIS model isn’t without challenges, including possible restrictive covenants in retail leases.

And despite the overall strong performance of the retail sector in 2021, some storm clouds loom on the horizon. The nation’s labor shortage has been well-documented. In addition, supply chains, which were stretched during the pandemic, have not yet returned to normal, and the recent war in the Ukraine threatens to create additional global supply chain disruptions.