The Value of Retail Stores – How Covid-19 Has Been a Catalyst for Change
Many retailers have already proven that they can adapt when presented with monumental challenges. Now that stores are starting to reopen across England, their ability to adapt will once again be tested, as the social, economic and political environment continues to evolve into unchartered territory.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), during May 2020 the UK experienced almost 20% growth in “non-store” sales compared to the previous month. In fact, online accounted for 33% of total retail sales, a record-breaking high. On top of this, recent UK surveys have reported that 70% of consumers no longer feel completely comfortable shopping in-store, with as many as 20% saying they would not be returning to stores after lockdown has been lifted. This dramatic change in consumer spending behaviour will have an impact on the role that stores play and will mean that retailers will need to fight to get customers to return to their stores.
Investing in Workforce Management
Successfully reopening stores will require more than simply adhering to social-distancing guidelines and providing a safe experience – it will need retailers to offer customers a special reason to shop offline. Retailers will also need to optimise their workforce management, considering how the needs of their store employees have changed and how best to support them in the critical new roles they will play.
With childcare struggles, school closures and continued lockdown regulations, scheduling staff is more complex than ever. Stores may require fewer staff working longer hours or changing shift patterns in order to meet the new store standards, such as managing longer queues, extra cleaning, increased click and collect orders and new fulfilment processes. The UK Government is also considering a number of measures to stimulate spending including changes to Sunday trading hours and a reduction in VAT – both could significantly affect staffing requirements.
Retailers can no longer afford to neglect their workforce management strategies; using disparate systems and out-of-date technology will lead to a poor in-store experience. The need for accurate and actionable data will be the single greatest strength for retailers that want to stay ahead. AI-powered scheduling systems that are able to support store managers, efficiently anticipating demand, and which ensure the right people scheduled at the right times, will be needed to guarantee the survival of retail stores.
Keeping Stores Open
Now that stores have begun to open, what comes next is even more important: keeping stores open. Covid-19 has forced retailers to rethink and focus on what purpose their brands and stores deliver in this increasingly digital landscape. Without ensuring a clear differentiation between online and offline, retailers will struggle to win their customers back.
After the first week of reopening, footfall has risen by 45%. Whether this uplift will continue will be down to how well retailers welcome back their customers. Now is the time for retailers to assess how new technology can help them trade more effectively. One example of how retailers are adapting is Lush who are using their Lush Lens app to replace the usual hands-on demos given by store colleagues. Currys PC World is also creatively reinventing their offering by turning their stores into Tech Help Hubs where shoppers can access expert help with their tech challenges both in-store and at home – bridging the gap between online and offline, and easing customers back into stores safely.
While some aspects of shopping may return to normal eventually, many of these changes are here to stay and in this competitive market it is more important than ever that retailers differentiate themselves and adapt to the needs of customers and employees.
To learn more about how to improve your workforce management strategy, check out our recent whitepaper, “Planning for an Effective Global Workforce Management Project.”