Retail After Pandemic: Jen Lee Koss, CEO of BRIKA

Retail After Pandemic: Jen Lee Koss, CEO of BRIKA

With physical stores closed to the public and consumers confined to their homes, COVID-19 is reshaping retail. We released our Crisis Manifesto: How retail will change post-Coronavirus report to help retailers navigate their new reality. As part of our series on retail innovation we reached out to Jen Lee Koss, CEO of BRIKA to talk about the future of retail on the other side of the pandemic.

Jen Lee Koss, CEO of BRIKA

Currently, how is BRIKA doing? How has the company been impacted by COVID-19?

BRIKA is a modern retail agency that creates unique shoppable experiences for brands, retailers and property developers whether online or offline. We most recently had two permanent standalone shops on the east and west side of Toronto, in addition to running numerous pop-ups around the country. We have worked with thousands of brands over nearly a decade. 

We were relatively lucky in that the lease to our shop came to an end on March 31st. Talk about timing! The downside is that we were hoping to have one last great month to feature so many amazing small brands and businesses.

Many of the companies we were working with related to pop-ups for spring/summer have obviously postponed their projects. We are working with others that are thinking outside the box as to how they can create URL experiences rather than IRL. The ones that are planning for fall and holiday are still going forward – they are optimistic that business will come back. However, we all know that there will be a new normal, and so we are also coming up with ideas and activations that will incorporate new means of social distancing, for example. 

Retail After Pandemic BRIKA
Retail After Pandemic BRIKA

The real downside impact of COVID-19 has been seeing some of the smaller independent brands that we have been working with over the years suffering. However, many of them have been nimble and creative and have been turning their efforts to being more online than ever before. Many owners are learning new skills and fast. It should be known that some businesses are doing better than they had been before COVID hit! 

I’ve been having live virtual chats with a new small business each and every day on our IGTV for a month, and it’s been super inspiring to hear how many businesses have pivoted in ways they never could have managed before.

Retail After Pandemic

Crisis Manifesto: How retail will change post-Coronavirus — a report by Highline Beta

Retail is now staring at industry-wide disruption. How can companies stay competitive in this changing landscape? Highline Beta has put together a report on retail innovation trends to help retailers thrive on the other side of the pandemic.

You were working a lot with big companies with BRIKA. When things come back to “normal”, are you looking to change anything in your business model overall to account for the situation and what the “new normal” might look like after?

I think there may be a silver lining to our business once the “new normal” is established. After all this isolation and social distancing, there may be a feeling of wanting to get out and experience things again. However, I do think that people will not want to come out of their homes just for anything. We will have to be even more creative, careful and thoughtful in what we do. We will have to create retail experiences that are truly unique and they may not all be IRL. 

I also think there will be new norms related to social distancing and cleanliness and expectations around service. 

What do you think will make a retail experience truly unique?

There are brands now that may not be able to engage their customers IRL. However, they are maintaining and building really incredible communities in other ways and via different channels. This will go a long way in terms of how customers stay engaged when things reopen. I think a retail experience that is truly unique will be able to mobilize their communities in ways that feel authentic to the core. I also believe that there will be unique ways to incorporate social distancing that still needs to happen as well without feeling isolated.

Do you think startup collaborations with large companies will accelerate post COVID-19? 

Some of the coolest things we are seeing right now are small apparel companies working with their manufacturers to create PPE such as gowns, masks and hand sanitizer for frontline healthcare workers. It’s amazing to see how larger companies are exercising their nimbleness in a time of need.

Are there any specific examples of this? Which companies did you have in mind?

One example is the high-end apparel brand Scanlan Theodore from Australia. They turned their garment factories into medical gown production. I also love how LVMH turned their perfume factories into hand sanitizer factories.  

What are your thoughts on the changes in consumer behaviour? What do you think will stay post-pandemic? Are you seeing any new patterns when it comes to gift cards and loyalty programs?

If retailers had not gotten their online game on, they definitely are now. In the wake of all stores closing their doors, there has been a major move towards everyone ordering online more than ever before. 

It has also been interesting to see the rise of IGTV (Instagram Live). The fitness industry in particular has really embraced this channel, and we’re seeing how new, stronger and authentic communities are being built. We have started a virtual pop-up series that features a new brand and business every single day at 12:30 EST on our IGTV. 

It’s like the modern day home shopping channel. It’s free for brands to participate and another way for them to reach consumers at a time when stores carrying their goods are shut. This IRL channel is not going away. 

Retail After Pandemic BRIKA
BRIKA Brick & Mortar Store

Any thoughts on retail / retail tech trends that you think will accelerate because of COVID-19, or vice versa? Where do you see retail innovation moving in 2020 and 2021?

I think that any retailers that were on the edge previous to COVID-19 truly won’t be able to make it through afterwards, and I also think that consumers will shun unnecessary consumption post-COVID as well. The trends were already going in that direction before, and this has only accelerated it. Less is more. Quality over quantity. 

DTC brands may have lost their sexiness. Again, why do we need so much stuff when we’ve just gone through a period where it was evident that that “stuff” wasn’t so important any longer? 

In terms of retail tech trends, I think there will be innovation related to specialty leasing (more dead spaces than ever before), technology related to retail employees – one of the most important success factors in retail. That’s hiring, training, retention and even marketing. Brands must think about how they’ll reach their consumers when they may now be making even more thoughtful decisions about how they spend their time in and outside the home.  

Are you giving them any specific advice to startups like BRIKA on how to deal with the situation?

Have patience and no expectations and do not get paralyzed. If anything, this is a time to get really strategic and to demonstrate that surviving these dark days will be a basis for strength on the other side.

More Innovation Insights

Get Innovation Insights

Be the first to hear about Highline Beta news, funding announcements, resources, insights, and programs.