A Brighter Future for Retail

Article by Martyn Jones | 23rd April 2020

From groceries to home furnishings, from electronics to livestock, vendors in all sectors are re-examining the way they do business in 2020.

The grocery market is performing better than ever, despite unfortunate circumstances. March 2020 was the UK supermarket’s best-ever month, with a record 20.1% increase in sales. Since the Government closed cafes and restaurants, consumers are purchasing all foods from grocers and supermarkets. Typically, a UK consumer spends 40% of their food budget on eating out, meaning that supermarkets and grocers are filling an additional 60% of market need.

Some retailers have taken the decision to close. Business leaders in fashion, homeware companies or DIY stores have been forced to sell only online because staying open would have put staff at risk. Despite growing demands and supply chain strain, many are coping amazingly well. Following a 40% drop in demand for fashion in early March, online demand has grown by 28% in the last fortnight in Europe. This shows that consumers are responding positively to retail changes, even in countries where the outbreak has been severe.


For restaurants and hospitality companies, the outlook is less clear. When lockdown is lifted people might spend heavily, but for many restaurants or hospitality traders, surviving until this point without revenue is an impossibility.

Arguably, customers may not return to normal straight away. In China, footfall has depended on in-store adoption of safe practices and sensible distancing. ‘Normal’ is a constantly changing concept, businesses may have to quickly adapt to new ways of working if they wish to stay competitive. In the coming months, retailers will want to consider adjustments to:

➤ Operations

➤ Infrastructure to cope with online sales

➤ Automating services

➤ Implementing new systems

Transformation has sped up

Supermarkets in the UK have been forced to adopt 10 years’ worth of transformation within two weeks. This means rapid adoption of online sales processes and smarter, faster stock systems that are here to stay. As generations that haven’t shopped online begin to embrace the internet, I’d expect the UK share of online sales to grow. Once the lockdown is lifted, new habits will have been formed by everyone.

Although the clothing and homeware retail sectors are still facing uncertainty, the way in which we return to normal service presents unique opportunities to change things. Could we integrate online and store sales more closely? It’s often said that large companies are like oil tankers. Perhaps now it’s time to begin changing direction. Click here to view my white paper – ‘Have retail leaders been living in the short term?’

When Europe lifts restrictions, retailers may want to move their focus from making people safe to coping with future fluctuations. Business leaders should play out scenarios and seek to improve services during the downtime. What could be done to improve the customer experience? How can we optimise our team structure? What could be done to improve productivity across our stores?

The future customer

As closures force new habits worldwide, retailers should think about the future customer base. Even previously reluctant generations are now embracing e-commerce. What new, efficient types of customer service could this lead to?

➤ Increasing Click & Collect

➤ Faster online shopping

➤ Personalised e-commerce

If behaviour takes 30 days to shape, then consumer behaviour has already changed. The future customer will expect more of us all, but that’s an undeniably good thing. If UK retail develops new SOPs to meet changing regulations, then better hygiene, smarter tracking and higher levels of sanitation will be the result.

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