The outlook for the post-pandemic retail sector
almost 20 per cent of all retail sales. Dixons Carphone was struggling last year, but sales during lockdown have risen more than 165 per cent from increased movement of, for example, cookware, entertainment systems and even fitness trackers.
Within “clicks and bricks” food retailers, Tesco, for example, will soon have the capacity for 1.2 million home deliveries, up from just 600,000 before the pandemic hit. Food retailers’ sales in general have risen sharply, on average by 9 per cent, driven initially by a short-lived surge in panic buying (for five consecutive days in March, Sainsbury experienced sales greater than their busiest trading day at Christmas) and latterly by the ongoing closure of fast food outlets and restaurants.
Success does not come without a cost, however, as most stores open are incurring additional expenditure through infection control measures, such as Perspex screens and sanitising hand gel. The shopping experience presently is hardly a pleasure. Who is not irritated by the inevitable dimwit or deliberate rebel invading your space or heading in the wrong direction?
The appeal of home delivery is only too obvious. Once the older generations and other vulnerable groups embrace it, there will be no turning back. Looking beyond the gloom of the dire economic forecasts and a looming recession, those retailers who survive will need to recognise which are permanent changes in consumer behaviour and which are just temporary.
Currently, a third of shoppers say they will be more mindful, and will incur less waste.
The same number say they will spend less on non-essentials. Unlikely! One in five say they will spend less going out. More likely. The lockdown period has seen an 89 per cent rise in the number of online registrations. High streets will need to apply for a change of use, with fast food outlets among those who will need to change their ways. Shopping centres will do better and so may convenience outlets in residential areas, as folk decide to travel less.
Offline retailers must engage with customers to keep the buying habit going where and how they can, with experience critical.
Health and safety concerns will nevertheless be reflected in ongoing in store restrictions. Social distancing is here to stay, and precautions will continue long after this pesky virus is beaten. Retailers will be expected too, to offer fair rewards to loyal employees. Some 45,000 new workers were taken on at Tesco alone in
April, including delivery drivers, shelf fillers and till operators, who should not be discarded as demand settles. Cashless shopping has been on the rise for many years and will only continue.
Lastly, shoppers will reward retailers that demonstrate corporate social responsibility and introduce more sustainable practices, supporting good causes, environmental wellbeing and even providing aid for their competitors. Amazon recently donated £250,000 to a fund supporting bookshops.
It is not unreasonable to say that little in retail will be the same again. Reputations have been made and lost in a matter of weeks. Sometimes it is luck that decides who wins and who loses, but fortune favours the brave and it is not always size that is the differentiating factor. The internet knows no bounds, even if in-store floor space may be limited. Ultimately, it may not be the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog.