Retailers are already better for the crisis

It shouldn’t take a crisis for retailers to respond in the myriad generous, clever and creative ways that they have in the last nine weeks, but let’s embrace it and herald a new retail dawn.

Specsavers has used Facebook to offer a sight and hearing health advice group, ideal while opticians are shut. Others have followed and Facebook has said that around two million people in the UK alone have joined over 2,000 local COVID-19 community support groups.

Out of the back office

The ecommerce industry has gone into overdrive to fulfil demand lost to stores, resulting in people from every echelon of the business not just taking shifts on the sales and call centre front, but working collaboratively with colleagues in ways that are almost certain to become permanent. After all, why should sales, marketing and creative all work like a car production line when they are focused on the same users, the customers?

Home delivery network, Deliveroo, has teamed up with Morrisons and M&S to deliver goods to families on lockdown. Again, this may become a permanent service as older people find that their lockdown extends into the Autumn and beyond.

And onto the floor

A number of retailers have recognised just how important front line staff are as salespeople, brand ambassadors and loyalty builders, leading many to cut head office headcount or redeploy them into warehouses or soon, into stores.

Next, which already runs an on line house of brands business, is now offering its logistics network to other brands, an important pivot as it recognises that it needs to play to its strengths across the board, not just in stores and on line. Expect to see more of these kinds of partnerships where large retailers use their scale to help smaller brands.

Local is real

Local retailers have seen a renaissance for obvious reasons and joined forces with local people via Whatsapp and Facebook to deliver orders into village halls and empty churches, or direct to the home. Whether this can survive lockdown remains to be seen, but many consumers are certain to start blending their orders between chains and independents more creatively.

The prognosis for stores is not positive and there is yet no evidence of the bounce seen in parts of Asia. However, if the outcome is fewer but better stores, while it will mean a tough time for landlords as well as retailers on long leases, the adjustment must be positive as consumers embrace a more integrated off/line retail life.

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