Retail will need to adjust to the commercial realities of Covid-19

PCRMAY2020

Gekko Field Marketing’s MD, Daniel Todaro, discusses whether the Coronavirus will present the opportunity to re-appraise the retail experience and increase communities’ appreciation of the high street

So here we are amidst the most bizarre of situations that no one in their lifetime has experienced. There’s never been a global pandemic or an instance that has distanced human beings to this extent. I’m optimistic and believe that we will come out of this experience as better business people with a new perspective to how we go about running our companies.

The pandemic has seen all but essential retail close with figures published by Google showing an 85% drop in footfall to retail destinations over the first two weeks of the pandemic, marginally improving by 3% to 82% in week three.

It’s true to say that some businesses may regrettably not survive the economic impact of the situation, which is indeed unprecedented, but for some it could have been avoidable if those who hold the power acted more responsibly. Talking Retail published some embarrassing statistics surrounding the government’s Business Interruption Loan Scheme, which saw only 1.4% of applicants successfully receiving loans. Putting this into perspective, of the estimated 300,000+ firms that applied, only 4,200 businesses have received rescue loans from banks. That was three weeks after the Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the scheme alongside the Employee Retention Scheme, more commonly known by employees as the Furlough Scheme. This in itself provided some false hope for employers and employees. As to this day, it is still not fully understood by all because the Government is yet to publish full qualifying criteria or the portal for companies to apply.

Now, if you’re one of those businesses that has generated virtually no revenue and is still covering your overheads with what cash flow you have remaining, I suspect a loan would be useful to ensure that you could at least pay your staff the 80% the government has promised to cover. What most don’t understand is that you still require the cash flow to cover your payroll, even at 80%, whilst you wait for the funds in the form of the grant from the Government.

Whilst I do not wish to criticise the Government’s approach, as these initiatives are brilliant and what you’d expect from the world sixth largest economy to protect its GDP and lessen the impact on the welfare state, they are however reactionary. The speed of announcements for these knee jerk initiatives has unfortunately meant that the communication to all was poor. Compounded by misunderstandings as lawyers, accountants and advisors speculated on what the government would do forgetting to explain to small business that none of this advice being offered was not actually based on fact.

As a small business you rely on many outlets to advise you accordingly and help guide a business in its decision making. My fear is that all this unqualified advice is making matters worse and creating more issues for when we are ready to get back to business as normal, as there remains many unknowns that impact future planning.

It’s been reported that in March, retail declined 4.3% and non- food purchases online accounted for 40% of all online sales. As a marketing agency that specialises in technology and leisure brands, this statistic is of particular interest to me. So what can marketers, sales people and retail do to ensure technology and CE retail are able to come back with a bang?

Our fundamental societal roles have changed – working, shopping, education etc. – as well as our attitudes to the community roles we all took for granted. Those truly crucial to society – our NHS, bin men, local butchers, bakers, milk deliveries etc. have been elevated to heroes and saviours, doing all they can to serve their local communities.

So, the question we’re all pondering is will it lead to a reappraisal of the role of independent retailers in the community? Will consumers look differently upon what they may have previously considered out of date. We are all shopping local, where stores are open, from the independent hardware store to the corner shop and long term, I know my shopping habits will now incorporate these stores often and not in an ‘emergency’.

And what’s come to the fore more than anything is that local shops are more than just places to buy products.

So with a new captive audience and acceptance of service to society, how can independent retailers revive their fortunes by socialising their new audience and retain them through experiences? We all understand the power of retail experiences, but we now need to plan ahead and look at this with a post- COVID-19 social lens. Because let’s face it, the first thing people will want to do after lock down is go to pubs, bars, restaurants, cinemas, shops and thoroughly enjoy themselves with those they’ve missed, and experience the feeling they’ve been deprived of for some time. This includes the experience of physical retail and reliving the enthusiasm of consumerism as a pastime, rather than having another brown box left outside your door.

Therefore, whilst still in lockdown, plan how you’re going to come out fighting. Use the time to think about what you could do certain things differently to enhance the experience – smaller range, bigger ranging, specialisation, marketing, PR, advertising, training, services.

Engage with your brand partners and encourage them to support you with offers, training and local marketing budgets. And then add to this how to socialise it – free coffee, fitting service, desk space to speak to someone face-to-face, new displays, improved window dressing, giving back to the community, offering key worker discounts?

Shopping habits of the great British nation are undoubtedly going to change after a period of social distancing. Retail will need to adjust to the commercial realities of the COVID-19 crisis and the long term effects it will inevitably create. But when this is all over, if marketed right, it could create opportunities to entice shoppers back through the doors with reopening parties and offers to kick start buying again and encouraging the nation to treat itself.

The treat aspect is essential to bring back the joy of shopping and in doing so creating an opportunity for brands and retailers to make shopping fun and personal again.

Read PCR Magazine here

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