The friction between the cost of staff, the cost of running stores as online takes up a larger share of buying, and the need to provide a demanding customer with a great service, must be electric.
Fortunately, people have given this some thought and come up with a few options. None are perfect or the whole solution, but they will help retailers cost their stores estates as they reopen.
Firstly, a ramping up of click and collect capability gives the store an important role to play as people look to avoid delivery charges or use a convenient location. Returns in store is another as anyone who has had to post back to a brand will attest.
Store as warehouse
And then there is store as warehouse where unused live sales space is taken over by the stock room to create mini stock hubs that can fulfil orders quickly. No doubt landlords are already mulling some kind of £ per square foot of stock room sales.
There is even a startup coming to the UK from Germany which will use redundant retail space to take in stock from local retailers and then deliver it within 10 minutes in city centres. I used to be a bicycle despatch rider back in the 80s so it will be interesting to see if we are talking bicycles, or vans or even human runners. Naturally, two of those are sustainable, one is not.
However, an old idea that used to be popular in the City of London aimed at financial staff who could not leave their desks, might come back. This saw an army of style experts visiting offices armed with products and catalogues, hoping to sell on the spot or at least sign orders. It certainly gives staff a break from the store and endlessly folding stuff.
Showrooming keeps the store busy online
In addition, showrooming, which grew rapidly during lockdowns, enables good sales people in store to keep selling to customers that they are connected to through Whatsapp.
Stockless stores are an interesting idea being trialled in the US mainly, where people can demo a huge range of product in a large flagship store but all orders are processed for home delivery.
What no one can know yet is, will the overall number of people involved in stores retail rise or fall as these new models are rolled out? No one can say yet, but what is clear is, staff roles will change dramatically and might even make retail a more attractive place to work. Staff retention in retail needs work because it is so low compared to other industries, and these new roles might just be the answer.
I guess most staff returning to work may well accept things as they were but hopefully more enlightened retailers will consult with them to co-design the staff roles of the future. That’s one powerful route to greater retention.