Business as usual for retailers: utilising digital to tackle the impact of coronavirus

By Andy Burton, CEO, Tryzens.

With the Prime Minister recently announcing that the UK will remain on lockdown over the coming weeks, with all but essential shops closing until further notice, it goes without saying that the pressure has ramped up on retailers.

This is on the back of social distancing measures which had already seen a reduced footfall for retailers in-store. To ensure they survive this uncertain period it is critical that retailers now begin focusing on their online channels where possible, and while still ensuring social distancing measures are in place to protect the likes of warehousing and logistics staff. This is required in order to keep their business afloat and connect with customers, maintaining a business as usual approach. 

With an in-store experience no longer a possibility, retailers must begin to harness the power of digital. With more people using smartphones and tablets to shop online, apps are now becoming the main way for retailers to stay in contact and engage with customers in isolation. This has resulted in many retailers and brands experiencing a huge surge in online growth, compensating for at least some of the decline in in-store traffic.   

The evolution of retail has always been driven by consumer behaviour, so it is no surprise we have seen sales through websites and apps shoot through the roof, starting with the obvious necessities like medicine, food and toiletries. That being said, we are also noticing that many brands and retailers are realising peak trading levels in fashion apparel in key markets. So, to capitalise on the consumers that would have otherwise visited a physical store, these brands and retailers are using digital engagement, such as live notifications and offers, to entice people to shop online. 

Although the attitude to shopping through mobile apps and websites has shifted in recent years – with more people finding it less difficult to function and navigate – some customers still prefer human interaction and therefore resort to shopping in-store. To overcome this, fine jewellery brand Annoushka has integrated HERO, allowing it to mimic the in-store experience in real-time for its customers. The customer can be located anywhere in the world yet still have the ability to choose their favourite in-store team member to guide them through the shopping experience via chat, text or video. By giving customers the option to have human interaction while shopping online, Annoushka is providing a recognisable yet unique experience for their loyal customer base.  

The impact shop closures will have on retailers is still uncertain. However, through the use of digital we are seeing situations where the management of an online store is more akin to peak period trading behaviour, where the performance of the site and the relevance of promotions are all critically important. Once the coronavirus outbreak does calm down, I anticipate that we will see digital sales play a far more imperative role for a number of retailers. Although people will be happy to experience in-store shopping again, they will also have the experience, knowledge and confidence of what can be achieved through apps and websites, therefore driving more customers back online. To make this happen, it’s critical retailers and brands ensure their digital strategies are able to fill the void caused by not having a physical presence, and do so quickly.

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