Retailers around the world have found themselves bearing the commercial brunt of Covid-19 as shops closed and shoppers stayed home. Consumer-focused retailers and high-street mainstays have been forced into administration, clothing and electronic stores have been shut for months in some parts of the world, and while supermarkets have seen food sales increase, sales of non-food items have fallen. Business to business retailers have faced a tough trading climate.
Structural changes have accelerated
It’s a troubled outlook for retailers who have already been trying to balance bricks and mortar success with online innovation and the rise of ecommerce. The fallout from Covid makes that battle even harder. Consumers are moving to online offerings and retailers need to match their growing appetite. Kantar research into UK, French and German retail trends finds the share of people who undertake 50% or more of their total purchases online grew by between 25-80% in April 2020, and six in 10 consumers intend to continue buying as much online once the pandemic has passed as they do now.
Covid will accelerate challenges in the retail sector rather than create entirely new ones, including the need for retailers to offer a simple, satisfactory online journey as well as focus on ‘direct-to-consumer’ interactions, instead of working through large department stores. Customers are forced to shop local in the short term because of Covid but it’s a trend that has grown over the last decade, as people choose to shop near where they live rather than venture to out-of-town retail parks and hypermarkets.
Retail habits have been shifting in recent years, and they now look set to stay. From social distancing to online shopping excellence, here’s a short run down of how retailers should respond in the immediate sense and, in doing so, plan for work and life post-Covid.
Main trends expected post-Covid
- Increase their safety, find ways to help them socially distance from customers and team members, do they have the screens and medical equipment they need?
- Redefine roles, changing macro conditions mean people at work may have to work at different capacity and in different areas. Ensure your team has the leadership and flexibility necessary.
- Manage productivity, check in with your teams and ask how new retail habits are changing the way they work, then find ways to increase productivity and customer satisfaction.
- Change product offerings based on what people are buying: new tastes could stick, so make strategic adjustments.
- Support your suppliers, think about the long-term impact of cancelling orders and consider redefining pricing to help secure mutually-beneficial relationships.
- Manage transportation and logistics, fast and reliable delivery will be remembered by your customers, talk to your logistics teams and find out what’s possible.
- Demonstrate commitment to healthcare, adapt to the lockdown and adhere to local expectations, for instance the wearing of masks. Shoppers prefer using ‘touchless’ or self-checkout options, so make sure you have the terminals, that they are working and, if necessary, purchasing new ones.
- Ensure you have quality products; consumers are set to buy less but higher quality items. Health is top of people’s agenda so whatever you’re selling, make sure you’re able to meet customer expectations.
- Similar to the above, there is a growing demand for sustainable retail: products that are good for you and the wider world. Once the crisis period has abated, retail leaders should double down on their sustainability credentials. And do that by leveraging data to manage customer preferences, pricing and commercial costs.
- It can seem counter-intuitive at a time like this, but discounts will help retailers attract and retain customer interest, especially with an economic recession likely. Increase offers and promotions while redefining marketing and communication that focuses on value,
Adapt to a new commercial journey
And finally, look ahead. Consider restructuring and new business models: in times of disruption, retailers may find the inspiration to start a new commercial journey that sets them up for long-term success.
Covid-19 is creating difficult circumstances for retailers, but it should not throw their existing plans completely off track. E-commerce, quality and sustainable products, fair pricing and customer experience are all at the core of retailer concerns, whether it’s during lockdown or not.
Retailers should leverage their brands to stay in touch with customers, reassuring them in the short term of their offer and letting them know they will be there when shopping returns to normal. If they get it right, retail brands could even increase loyalty and sales in the near future.
The virus outbreak and its consequences have reminded retailers that they operate in a tough sector that is highly vulnerable to external factors. However, retail businesses have spent the past decade – and longer – keeping up with fast-changing customer trends. If they continue to dedicate themselves to their customers, while preparing their teams and models for the future, there’s no reason to think they can’t continue to match and surpass expectations.