Fast forward to an online world

As the UK sees a gradual return to some form of ‘business as normal’, many companies are wondering what form that new normal will take. With social distancing still guiding the way that retailers operate and regulations in place to keep staff and customers safe, there is little doubt that interactions between retailer and customer is going to look very different. Limited numbers of customers in shops, high standards of hand hygiene, lone-way systems in shopping areas – these are all factors that will play a part in the way retail moves forwards.

In the first few weeks of lockdown, the ramifications of the ‘new normal’ were bewildering The first reaction among business leaders was one of expected chaos and turmoil. The primary instinct is to move with caution and protect what is there. But now, looking at trends and data, it seems that the mindset of many is turning to practical, balanced and objective ways of moving forwards. The prevalent view among business leaders now is that it is time for forward thinking, recovering lost ground and seeking new ways of growing the business. While the headline news speaks of turmoil, decline and fluctuation, delve a little deeper and there are signs of potential growth, particularly in areas involving technology and digitalisation. And in retail that tends to mean e-commerce.

For businesses and high street stores that have swiftly enhanced the online or E-commerce side of their business, now is a time to build on this. For those still considering moving to online sales, make sure you get your offer right so that you build an immediate high level of trust with your customers.

Ways you can do this include: making sure that people know you offer online sales and delivery; making sure stock levels are managed to optimum levels; ensure the website loads quickly, displays clear trust signs and is secure; and make sure you have non-sales content to support your audience.

The argument for building or enhancing your online sales presence is compelling. A recent report by UK eCommerce data, released by the eCommerce Consultancy, said that 24 per cent of people said they will purchase more through social media and a further 18 per cent want to buy more goods online. The forecast growth rate of online shopping to 2023 is 34.5 per cent.

The growth of online sales is already being felt in reports from various sectors on the past three months of trading: Sales of gardening tools and supplies was up by 94 per cent Electronics (entertainment products) rose by up to 40 per cent It’s not just in the UK that we are seeing the move to more online sales. In Canada, the eCommerce platform Shopify is rolling out new services to retailers to help them move part or all of their operations online.

Shopify’s chief operating officer Harvey Finkelstein outlined his vision for the retail world: “The retail world that would have existed in the year 2030 has been pulled into 2020. Brick and mortar retailers that were thinking of moving online have done so at an incredible clip over the last 8-10 weeks,” he said.

“It feels a little bit like a story of two retail worlds. You have the legacy retailers — the Neiman Marcuses, the Barneys, the J Crews — that are no longer around because they did not adapt fast enough.”