I’m usually at the front of the virtual queue for the infamous Mr. Porter sale, knowing that while the price point is still high, the quality, creativity of designer clothing, and the longevity of the right piece makes the outlay worthwhile. With the sale having recently dropped, by default I found myself trawling the pages as I have many seasons before. However, this time something felt different.

Different, not in the quality of items or number of options, but in how I was receiving and enjoying (or in this case not enjoying) the experience. Sadly times have changed and given that we are now living in an environment of job losses, financial difficulties and health challenges, perhaps this enjoyment to spend on myself has faded. From the previous thrill of shopping, I now experienced a sense of total and utter blankness.

There could be a number of reasons for this, but I think one of the big ones is simply a lack of inspiration from others in the physical environment. I realise that I gather a lot of ideas from the people around me – I see someone wearing something I like and I start creating a look in my mind. Also, of course, everything is now happening in the digital environment – from work, to seeing family and friends, to shopping, to movies and entertainment and beyond. Yes, all of this was true before, but we had the option to engage in the physical world too and clearly both are still very much needed to maintain the richness of the experience.

Retail brands are having to work that much harder to drive greater inspiration online. Product on a flat background isn’t enough. Attempting to replicate some sense of the physical experience into the online is more important than ever. According to recent findings from our Populus Group COVID 19 tracker, we know that only 26% of people say they would feel comfortable visiting retail stores at the moment. We simply won’t see a return to shopping in the same way as before. The upside is that this creates an incredible platform for innovation and creativity as retailers seek to find new ways to inspire customers to shop.

Global luxury retailer Lane Crawford is creating content in stores tailored to their most loyal customers, allowing them to shop ‘in store’ but from home. Selfridges has also upped its online services for those keen to stay at home. Aspects such as their virtual gift advice, Instagram beauty tutorials and video-enabled personal shopping are just some of the examples of how they are seeking to bring “Selfridges into the comfort of people’s homes”, according to Meave Wall, Store Director.

Speaking of Selfridges, today is the day in the UK that they can open their doors once more. Always rich, engaging, fresh, and inspired – I think my visit to the store today won’t ironically be out of any real desire to buy, but simply to feel the inspiration of others (and of course the normality of being able to walk amongst fashion once more).

Whilst there’s no denying it, this is a hugely challenging time for retail businesses, but I do also believe that this ‘forced innovation’ will bring a raft of new ideas and fresh energy that perhaps might not have otherwise surfaced. Exploring these ideas and discovering what resonates with such a vastly changed consumer is the bit that really excites and inspires me.