The resilience of retail has been a remarkable success story of 2020 in the face of continuing huge challenges. The pandemic has forced new ways of trading, from the obvious ways of ensuring COVID-safe spaces to rethinking how to target consumers spending the majority of their lives at home. For the retailers left standing, this period of dramatic change will have stiffened their sinews and made them lean, adaptable and ready for when the good times return. There are encouraging signs and we’ve looked at some recent data that provide four signals for real optimism about 2021.
Retailers embrace an omnichannel strategy
The first lockdown came as a hammer blow to the industry. With retail outlets shut throughout the country, consumers shifted rapidly online and overall sales fell sharply . Despite this, the growth in ecommerce couldn’t make up for the volume lost through the doors of physical retail. While the first lockdown was a shock to us all, this time retailers have been far better prepared. The BRC-ShopperTrak footfall monitor for November revealed that footfall across all UK shopping destinations fell by 65.4 per cent compared with the same month last year, due to England’s lockdown. According to the ONS, retail sales volumes last month were 3.8 per cent lower than in October, ending a six months of growth. However the drop was smaller than analysts had expected and sales remained 2.6 per cent above February’s level, in the year to November. This was all the more impressive given lockdown forced many shops to close during the month. Indeed Dixons Carphone’s recently released half year results indicating a strong performance despite the challenges.
This shows the ongoing resilience of retail with retailers coming up with the right enticing offers to encourage spending. They had adapted to the changed circumstances and ensured they could reach consumers instore or at home. In 2020 the old online/ offline dichotomy has become more irrelevant with all brands and retailers needing an omni-channel strategy to ensure they can best respond to the needs of customers. This is the best way to remain relevant and operate in the future.
Pent up demand for physical retail experience
Despite online retail’s undoubted increase of the share of the cake, reports of the death of physical retail have been greatly exaggerated. After each lockdown there has been huge pent up demand in evidence whenever retail has been allowed to operate. This is despite uniquely off putting circumstances for consumers to venture out. Recent data shows a bigger picture of the return to stores following the lifting of lockdown 2, with footfall increasing by over 19.9% as determined consumers returned to stores ready to purchase after weeks away. High streets and shopping centres have been the real drivers of growth, having suffered the most in November.
Our own analysis of consumer behaviour based on in store behaviour, the G-Index, has continually been updated post lockdown and we now have over 200 responses from around the country in various stores. 47% remain happy coming into stores, while there has been an increase in those feeling cautious. With that in mind, 90% of retailers have staff on the door managing footfall amongst many other measures designed to maintain a safe environment for all customers. They have impressively reacted to ensure they are COVID safe and have made sure they have communicated this to their shoppers. They have responded in a responsible and agile manner and generated enormous good will that will stand them in good stead for the future. After all if people are still wanting to venture out during a pandemic, we can be guaranteed they will flock to stores when we have the vaccines rolled out and no longer have to be scared of strangers.
Capitalising on the new trend of ‘shopping with purpose’
One real trend we have seen during the pandemic is ‘shopping with purpose’. This is consumers wanting to make less journeys out but when they do, not returning empty handed. Our own analysis for December is showing a healthy growth in conversion rate of 51%. This was due to pent up demand and people returning to stores with a real purpose to buy. This is particularly the case with categories like consumer electronics with higher ticket items and people less willing to buy online. We may be less willing to venture out but when we do we want to make it count. Smart brands and retailers have realised this and have really focused on making the most of these opportunities for engagement. A great retail environment and well thought through customer experience is always crucial but never more so than now. Additionally a recent IDC Retail Consumer Insights Survey found that 59% of global customers are likely to shop elsewhere if they can’t buy online and pick up in-store. In comparison, 48% said they’d find another retailer if they can’t see in-store availability online.
The rise in prominence of the trusted sales expert
As we have been beset with Amazon packages we have realised something very crucial through absence, namely the importance of a trained expert to provide guidance and advice. For big ticket items, we simply haven’t been able to get the advice we need with information online perhaps answering the ‘what’ a product does and ‘how’ it works but is never able to respond to our unique reasons of ‘why’ we need it. This has been demonstrated by the impressive conversion rates we have witnessed of demonstrations leading to sales. When parting with a significant sum on considered purchases we want to speak to a human who can understand a product’s role in a customer’s life and make recommendations. A further investment in these experts will represent a smart strategy for the next year. Of course this advice can also be given on the phone in a world of social distancing and many brands have invested in staff in call centres to answer more specific questions about how products can fit into changed lives.
While the vaccine offers the promise of a return to a more normal life, we will all be changed by this experience. Despite the tough times, retailers have shown the strength and adaptability to respond to customers’ changed needs. As the clock chimes midnight this New Year’s Eve perhaps we can be confident we can mean it this time when we say ‘Happy New Year’.
By Daniel Todaro, managing director, Gekko Field Marketing