Retail Has Changed Forever: 10 Steps to Take Now for Post-Covid Success

Gabrielle Hase and Caroline Cartellieri

This crisis comes with a big silver lining – the opportunity for retail leaders to paint in broad strokes and make the change that needs to happen in every single part of their business.

The headlines are nearly unanimous; the retail apocalypse is upon us and the high street is dead. No doubt COVID-19 has rendered many of the assumptions that powered our retail business models irrelevant.

But it’s also thrown some new ones on the table, and has forced the industry – brands, retailers, suppliers, distributors, logistics providers and consumers – to reconsider what it means to make, sell and buy products and services in this pandemic world.

It’s hardly doom and gloom, however. In fact, this crisis comes with a big silver lining – the opportunity for retail leaders to paint in broad strokes and make the change that needs to happen in every single part of their business.

It’s with this in mind that Caroline Cartellieri and I have created a Retail Pandemic Playbook, outlining the big themes we’ve seen emerge and how to proactively handle them. What are those themes?

Customers are Changing

Economic uncertainty in the midst of the greatest depression in 300 years is making consumers evaluate carefully what they really need. People are investing more in businesses that reflect their values and are taking note of how brands and retailers are treating their customers, suppliers and employees during the crisis. Consumers want a human connection with brands now, not a recorded message telling them to check a website for more information. A day out shopping is a different experience now that safety is an important consideration, too.

Trends are Accelerating

Ecommerce is now a preferred way to shop, for convenience, safety and choice. At the same time the sense that we have hit ‘peak stuff’ is growing, with consumers buying less but buying better and supporting local brands. Creating a product and experience that is truly unique – something that many retailers have forgotten along the way – has never been more important. Many of these trends are here to stay and offer opportunities for agile retailers to leapfrog their competitors by radically changing their business model.

Flexibility First

Investing in an agile tech infrastructure has been painful for many traditional retailers. It’s expensive and easy to get wrong. The truth is, solutions need to consider the entire user journey, seamlessly join all channels, and the internal teams need to have the skills – both strategic and operational – to make it happen. In this New World, every Board of Directors needs to include native digital experience.

Robust Tech is Table Stakes

Companies are having to take a hard look at what functions are essential to their survival and select team members who can go beyond their own job description. A flexible mindset and the ability to pivot quickly in response to changing circumstances will determine success and survival.

The 5 Key Success Factors for Post-Covid Retail.

1. Agility – We’ve all learned that dependency on one geography or single point of failure can bring down the whole supply chain, and that demand for a current offer can evaporate overnight. Supply chains need to be more localised and diverse, warehouses enabled for social distancing, and store leases flexible to make it easier to open and close quickly. The culture needs to encourage and reward agility.

There are multiple routes to market with a strong D2C channel. Just look at rapidly formed partnerships like Deliveroo and Morrisons. Or Bicester Village’s social distancing app for timed store entry. Or gyms like Third Space – live streaming classes and renting out equipment for use at home.

2. Being Technically Robust – Customers are more comfortable than ever shopping online, for a purpose rather than just to browse. Fear of infection has decreased dwell time in-store. Now, online channels need to be able to handle dramatic spikes in demand. Brands need to ensure a seamless omnichannel proposition with multiple delivery options, curbside pickup, fulfilment from any source, and broader payment options including contactless. Some retailers are experimenting with online consultations and VR & AR solutions – Currys’ ShopLive and Harrods’ remote personal shopping and Westfield outlet, for example.

3. Being Values-Driven – Covid has put brand accountability in focus. Remember how Wetherspoons and Amazon treated their employees at the start of all this, or Sports Direct its customers? Brands need to build brand transparency and accountability by clearly communicating values and strong community engagement. Barbour, Burberry, Joules and others are producing and donating PPE, John Lewis et al are delivering NHS care packages, Costcutter opened pop-up stores in hospitals, and we can learn a lot from all of them.

4. Being Safe and Trusted – Hygiene processes need to be clearly signposted throughout the value chain, from warehouse to store floor to front door, a la Boots. Physical distancing needs to be visibly observed and enforced, as we see in Tesco. And organisations need to ensure fair treatment of diverse community groups, e.g. hours dedicated to NHS and vulnerable groups.

5. Being Sustainable – Customers are becoming more ethically aware, and Generation Z spends its money where it makes a difference. This pandemic has demonstrated that there are viable alternatives to travel, commuting and pollution. Brands need to invest hearts and money into less plastic packaging, more recycled materials, Fair Trade and/or organic certifications and local sourcing involving fewer food miles - like Whole Foods, Borough Market, Nkuku and Bamboo Clothing.

10 Steps to Start Playing Offence Instead of Defence:

1. Plan multiple scenarios. Covid 19 has happened once – it can happen again.

2. Hire smarter and pay more for employees who are flexible and can quickly adapt their skills.

3. Assess your in-house skill set and tech infrastructure – then fill the gaps quickly.

4. Make tech a priority investment.

5. Define and communicate your values to everyone – consumers, suppliers, employees, shareholders.

6. Ensure those values are upheld.

7. Email your customers about the hygiene processes you have put in place.

8. Make sure they are operational on the ground.

9. Review your supply chain and identify sustainable substitutes where possible.

10. Where it’s not possible, invest in carbon offsets.

Now is not the time for incremental moves, or to take the ‘wait and see’ approach. Frankly, anything less than a radical rethink just won’t cut it.

Gabrielle Hase is a Co-Founder and Digital NED, as well as being CEO of Soleberry Advisory.

Caroline Cartellieri is an Advisor, Board Member and Trustee, whilst being Director at C-Squared Consulting.

Both Gabrielle and Caroline offer their time pro-bono as trusted All Together advisors.

Find the original playbook here: ​