Editor’s note: Hadar Paz is CEO and co-founder of AI-powered chat solution firm Powerfront, Los Angeles. 

A record-breaking 9,300 brick-and-mortar stores were shut down in 2019 – a 59% increase over 2018, creating concern across the retail ecosystem, leading many to name the period a “retail apocalypse.”

Yet nothing could have prepared the industry – or the world – for what was to come just months later. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely up-ended the way people live their lives. With cities rolling out shelter-in-place orders, and Americans ordered to avoid congregating in groups larger than 10 people, many retailers like Macy’s, Glossier, Patagonia and Sephora faced the difficult decision to temporarily close storefronts. At the time of writing, 75 million Americans are in some degree of home isolation, making shopping for non-essential items like clothing almost obsolete and grinding an entire industry to a halt. 

As a result, there will likely be more store closures to come. One by one, retailers large and small will be forced to create a crisis strategy to deal with dwindling traffic to brick-and-mortar stores. How should brands tackle these challenging times? 

We must look closely at how companies responded to the retail apocalypse last year, which resulted in major outlets like Opening Ceremony, Express, Papyrus and J.C. Penney to shutter a concerning number of stores. But a select group of retailers – stores like Target – quickly pivoted and avoided this fate. How? Not by giving in to panic, but by embracing an aggressive digital mode, doubling down on e-commerce and utilizing data and behavioral patterns to focus on giving online customers what they need. 

E-commerce was a force to be reckoned with long before this crisis and most retailers have already begun to focus on online customers: The Washington Post reported that the average U.S. household spent $5,200 online in 2018,...