The new normal within the retail sector

The nature of retail has now been drastically changed as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. This blog intends to highlight the ways in which retailers can potentially look at getting to some form of normality post Covid-19. What will the retailer in the next 6 months look like? How do they go about safeguarding their business, their staff and their customers? How is this realistically possible within the fashion sector? The guidelines set out by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and other contributors have been used in this blog to attempt to answer these questions. 


For the fashion industry, the pandemic has immediately affected trade, with the likes of Warehouse and Oasis sliding into administration, as their proposed buyers pull out, due to the effects of Covid-19 has had on the sector and as of the day of writing more than 1800 people are set to lose their jobs at the retailer. 


What will the post-Covid-19 retailer look like?


Social distancing is predicted to continue for the foreseeable future. The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty suggests that there is an ‘“incredibly small” chance of a vaccine or treatments being ready for use this year, and social distancing would have to stay in place to suppress outbreaks until then.’ If this prediction is indeed accurate then retailers will need to look seriously at how interactions with customers happen. Retailers will need to take a serious look into adapting their ways of operating. It will no longer be realistic to crowd our shops with people. Large scale sales, such as Black Friday will need to take a back seat and may become a distant memory. Retailers that do not currently have an online presence will need to strongly consider their position. As we need to be pushing more customers online in order to see the number of sales that we are used to.


Those that refrain from this will be left with a decisive decision, running a store and deal with a limited footfall or adopting an online presence as well and allow sales to return to a relative norm. Primark, for example have in the past refused to enter the online market, from this writer’s opinion this will change in the coming months. Primark has already seen a £650 million loss of sales per month and have had to furlough nearly 68,000 employees in the interim. These are very striking figures to look at and I am sure that the executive team will be having a long, hard look at whether they can continue with this approach for the foreseeable future.

To summarise this section, it is vitally important to remember that retailers will be under increased pressure as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and no doubt will be trying to come up with creative solutions to entice customers to not only their bricks and mortar stores, but also their digital ones. There will be a reliance on delivery services to help limit the physical numbers of customers in stores, while also providing them with an equal offering to that which they were previously used to. There is also an emphasis on the customers, as mentioned in a previous blog to make use of their high streets as much as possible, and that may now need to be from a digital perspective as well.


Safeguarding your staff and customers


Personal protective equipment will be essential if we are to protect staff and customers and lessons can be learnt from how supermarkets have dealt with this. All of us have experienced these specific measures they have put in place. In order for retailers to regain some form of normality, they are going to need to adopt at least the steps set out here; Social distancing measures, both in terms of queues outside the stores and inside. Customers will also need to adhere to the 2 metre rule. This will need to be managed by a member of the team and will in turn mean that a member of your team will need to be on-hand at all points of the day to monitor the situation both internally and externally. There are many other precautions that the BRC recommends that retailers follow, this includes having hand sanitisers on offer for people to use freely, making sure your staff wear face masks and gloves. If your store has a changing room, the BRC suggestion is to close these temporarily. 


Martin Newman, the Consumer Champion has highlighted that customers will be very apprehensive in using a small enclosed space that many other customers have used in the past. There are businesses out there that can help in this situation, such as our company Tryd, can help retailers address this gap by providing your customers with a Try Before You Buy service, which can be utilised in the customer’s home or workplace. Tryd will collect the items from your store, deliver them to your customers house/workplace. We will then give them 15 minutes to try the items on and if they are unsatisfied with their purchases, we will return them directly back to your store. All of this will be completed whilst following the social distancing measures. 

Other PPE’s include having sneeze shields at the checkouts, and also asking customers to pay with cards rather than cash. There are quite a few options that retailers can utilise if they haven’t got a cashless system in place. A quick internet search will bring up a number of options.  There is a lot more information available in the attached link from the BRC.  


Is this realistic for retailers? 


Well to keep this aspect short, it needs to be. If retailers want to succeed during these unprecedented times they need to adapt, change their approach and make the necessary compromises. For the greater good of the UK and society, we need to prioritise the safety of staff and customers. This pandemic will pass and the retailers that have put into place the correct measures to continue trading, will ultimately reap the benefits.  

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