Retail in a time of COVID-19

While the world struggles to contain the outbreak of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus), its impact is spreading rapidly across the globe. Several countries have shut their borders and implemented isolation on cities and states. Many businesses are scaling back on operations, and the events and entertainment industry has been forced to go into a “cancel-all” mode. Additionally, many retailers worldwide are forced to close their doors, temporarily or for good.

Grocery retailers are experiencing soaring demand on certain product categories, with an over 50% increase in comparison to Christmas peak. Simultaneously, discretionary purchases are being deferred at best, or cancelled altogether at worst. So what can we do in this time of uncertainty? There are some measures which can help reduce the struggle for retailers.

For grocery retailers, many face issues as customers are “hamstringing” certain base products on an extreme level (yes, we have all seen the empty toilet roll aisles). Due to this stockpiling, some customers are currently in desperate need of essentials, while others will not have to buy toilet paper or longer shelf-life foods for a very long time. In the long run, this means that after this surge in demand, sales will eventually decrease below historical “normal” forecasted levels as individual consumer’s focus on reducing their “home inventories” before making further purchases.

As regards the change in food trends, the threat of quarantine has meant that a huge spike in demand for longer-life products has cannibalised the sales of fresh fruit and vegetables. And as people are increasingly afraid to leave home, online shopping has soared. Retailers who offer a quicker home delivery service and free returns are gaining advantage over those who do not, so for retailers looking to improve sales, the time is now to roll out e-commerce and fast home delivery in a serious way.

For other industries such as fashion, sales are significantly impacted, and most often reduced. Retailers who have invested in improving their in-store experiences to combat the online shopping trend are seeing large drops in daily footfall which is unsustainable. One way of getting around this issue is to restructure staff. If a quick roll-out of local deliveries is facilitated, staff can deliver fashion products to local addresses and focus on the pick/pack/shipping fulfillment channel.

As the economy is experiencing uncertainty, and we do not know how long the situation will last, there are some measures retailers can take instantly to review and streamline their operations for this new reality:

  • Stock review – in response to the huge shift in buying behaviour, more regular inventory reviews to assess shelf-life and seasonality, and adjust accordingly. Do you need to run promotions or offer discounts on certain lines whilst maintaining full-price on others for longer? Should you limit the amount of certain products which each customer can buy to avoid problems with out-of-stock items? 
  • Order review – order cycles, safety stock levels and order frequencies for essentials and ambient food? It might be time to review longer-term demand forecast quantities and make adjustments based on known physical capacity constraints in the supply chain. These forecasts should also be aligned with volumes from suppliers and manufacturers inventories/production.
  • Staff review – if possible try to reorganise staff which can move from in-store to for example e-commerce assistance. Many retailers will experience a higher pressure online, so staff can be quickly retrained and redeployed to help where it is needed

  • Simplified digital payments are quick ways to keep sales going. Mobile payments such as Swish, Vipps or Klarna are perfect as people can pay from home, and easily transfer money to others as needed. Retailers who allow new payment methods will facilitate more people to complete purchases with them

  • For those in quarantine, online ordering & in-store pick up can be hugely beneficial, as home delivery slots are currently booked up for weeks ahead. This service helps people in risk groups to get the exact order they want faster, if they have someone helping them with the in-store pick up and thereafter carries the purchase to their home

  • Shareable shopping lists can also help those in quarantine. With this service, customers can pre-list their wanted items, and share their shopping list with others who can help complete the purchase in-store, and then take the products to their home

  • New ways of delivering are increasingly introduced. Instead of sending products with big trucks, retailers who offer delivery

A retailer could be passive or active in this process. If a proactive approach is adopted, it can open up a world of new opportunities such as pick & collect, pick in-store, buy online, pick in store and deliver to home, send via cabs/delivery options. If people are home they have a need for shopping online. 

Extenda Retail works with some of Europe’s largest grocery retailers and sales volumes are at unprecedented levels. Our mission is to continue to serve the community during these challenging times by ensuring that we are able to maintain the highest levels of service and quality for our customers.

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