With nearly 20 years’ experience working in retail and supply chain, Chris has gained broad experience across all retail functions and disciplines, having worked operationally and on many large technology and change projects. Since starting REPL he has worked with many of the world’s largest retailers, helping deliver transformational projects delivering real and quantifiable benefit. As a recognised expert in the workforce management space he is often called upon to provide best practice insight on these projects.
This time last year we were all carrying out our business entirely naive as to what was to come. By the end of March 2020 much of the world was in lockdown. This rapidly changed the retail landscape we had once known. Retailers and businesses were forced to adapt in order to survive. They had to make quick decisions with short-term mindsets, while being faced with economic uncertainty and rapidly changing consumer preferences.
Looking back, retailers may have handled the situation in a different way, especially around embracing and implementing new technologies. But hindsight is 20/20. 2021 is the perfect opportunity to learn from the global pandemic and for retailers to make lasting changes to support longevity in the future.
COVID-19 had such an impact that 37% of retailers reported having to make new digital transformation plans in 2020. With the UK’s current national lockdown set for what looks like at least a few months, retailers that have fared well over the past year should now focus on adopting a long-term, strategic approach across multiple channels to meet new consumer shopping habits and to ensure future success. In this article we will take you through the best 5 ways to adapt your online retail strategy for 2021.
While the first lockdown in 2020 provided a great level of uncertainty for many retailers and resulted in the consolidation of finances for short-term survival, the rollout of the vaccine programme should give retailers the confidence to invest in improving their online offerings for the long-term.
Last Christmas saw an increase of shoppers completing purchases exclusively via online channels, rising from 24% to 34%. For some retailers, utilisation of growing online channels is an area requiring development. With an expanding consumer base moving to online channels, delivering a highly personalised service now provides a key differentiator in a crowded market. With many stores currently under enforced closure due to the national lockdown, investment in technologies such as AI assistants for chatbot interactions and VR for a more virtual hands-on approach will prove beneficial in building a reliable and scalable online strategy.
During the first lockdown many retailers made use of their data to discover previously untapped but now vital insights. Data that proved to be super useful was footfall traffic, as the insights allowed retailers to rapidly roll out safeguarding social distancing measures for customers. This led to the launch of technologies such as the traffic light system now seen in Aldi stores, with a green light signifying a safe number of customers in-store and a red light for when a one-in, one-out system needs to be implemented.
Application of data insights can still go further in 2021. In 2025, it is predicted that 175 zettabytes of new data will be created worldwide, and with data being a retailer’s most valuable asset, opportunities to leverage personalisation, forecasting and planning and more will only grow. Organised use of data can help retailers improve the overall experience they provide shoppers, using it to analyse the most impactful time to run certain offers or upsell certain products.
A long-term focus on online channels will be vital in this year, it should also form part of an over-arching multi-channel strategy as 2021 progresses and shops begin to re-open once the lockdown is lifted. A excellent example of this is Marks & Spencer who last year teamed up with Deliveroo to provide key grocery products from its BP forecourts following the initiation of the first lockdown in 2020, starting a new revenue stream via an online channel. With 48% of consumers reporting a mix of online and in-store shopping for Christmas gifts in 2020, the pursuit of technological advancements across both channels will prove vital to address the changes in consumer habits in 2021.
Not only should retailers focus on technology applications, they should also focus their attention on the importance employees have on their organisation. In the past year, retail workers have transitioned from working members of the society to being applauded by Downing Street and labelled as ‘key workers’ for their contribution to the battle against COVID-19. It is crucial that retailers give back to their employees, as they are the greatest asset to any business. Investing in staff doesn’t just mean increasing salary and bonuses. It is also about upskilling, motivating, and listening to the teams on the ground to create an agile, multi-skilled, and engaged workforce.
Luring consumers back to shops after enforced lockdown closures will be pivotal, and shoppers will need to be given a reason to venture in-store when they may now associate this as an inconvenient alternative to shopping online. Retailers should concentrate on the experience in-store offers, training employees with product expertise they require to offer prospective buyers with informative and impartial advice.
Utilising technology across a multi-channel strategy can also enable the growth of staff development by offering possibilities for them to work in different areas of the business. For instance, customer assistance can help in the warehouse, on customer service helplines or online channels while stores are closed, allowing them to be multi-skilled as well as opening up avenues for future career opportunities.
Finally, technological applications, utilized in the right way, can offer the foundation for strategic retail planning, both this year and beyond. Despite the fact retailers were forced to make quick decisions during the start of the pandemic last year, many of the solutions that were rapidly deployed will facilitate an accelerated digital transformation moving forward forwards. This, along with the increased investment in developing employees in their roles, will help consumers that are entering stores while improving the position of the retail worker through new opportunities. Retailers that consequently balance multi-channel long-term strategies with an emphasis on developing their people are set up to thrive in the years to come.
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