During a North Houston Association meeting Jan. 20, Hamilton discussed how the future of retail will likely be shaped by the conveniences to which consumers have become accustomed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Hamilton, while the landscape of retail has been changing over the past decade, that evolution was expedited in 2020.
"Seventy-five percent of consumers have changed their shopping behaviors because of COVID-19," Hamilton said. "People are still out shopping—they just changed how they shop."
One such change is the increased popularity of online shopping. According to Hamilton, between January and November of 2020, consumers spent almost $550 billion online—a 33% increase from 2019.
"E-commerce accounted for over 15% of all retail sales just in the fourth quarter of last year," Hamilton said. "Prior to 2020, we had been talking about e-commerce, and we had watched over the last few years how that percentage was growing, but up until the end of 2019, e-commerce was still only less than 10% of total retail sales. Last year changed everything."
Additionally, Hamilton said purchases made through mobile devices accounted for $434 billion in 2019, and researchers predict that number will reach $729 billion by 2023. While experts had previously stated concerns that online shopping and online shopping companies, such as Amazon, would be the downfall of the retail sector, Hamilton said that is no longer the case.
"Online shopping is going to be a part of retail moving forward whether we want it or not. But the good news is that retail has learned to work with it and is starting to embrace online shopping," Hamilton said. "Retailers are actually working with Amazon in order to get their products shipped and marketed. So Amazon is not killing retail; retail is learning to work with them."
In addition to online shopping, Hamilton said safety precautions, such as delivery and curbside pickup, which retailers implemented due to COVID-19, are likely to stay. Hamilton added that as new retailers are built, drive-thrus, open-air concepts, patio seating and designated curbside pickup parking spaces are likely to be part of initial design plans.
"You have to remain innovative if you want to remain healthy and stay alive; if not, you're going to be left behind," he said.
Additionally, Hamilton said partnerships with third-party delivery companies, such as DoorDash, GrubHub and UberEats, are likely to remain even after the pandemic. Direct-to-consumer concepts, such as Warby Parker and Chewy, should also outlive COVID-19, Hamilton said.
"We will see more retailers continue to lean up [because] they're realizing that the size of the space they have is just too much, and so they will continue to downsize," he said. "We've already seen that over the last five years, but 2020 escalated things."
While Hamilton said more bankruptcies are likely to occur in 2021, he remains optimistic as the Greater Houston Partnership projects another 35,000-50,000 jobs will be added to the region by the end of the year. Additionally, Hamilton predicts more innovative startups and mergers will take place in the coming year.
"If you don't have people, you don't have retail," he said. "Last year, we took a big hit, obviously. The good news is by the end of , we had recovered more than half of the jobs we had lost—I believe it was over 200,000 jobs. So we've still got a ways to go to make up the remaining [job losses], but we are moving in the right direction."