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May 12, 2020
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Store reopenings: shoppers' return to be slow, convenience tech is key say insiders

May 12, 2020

As non-essential retailers prepare for reopening, possibly during June, the British Retail Consortium has called for more clarity from government, while a survey shows that consumers are wary of entering physical shops and we’re being told that new forms of delivery and new technology will become ever more important.

Fashion stores will soon reopen but how fast will customers return? - Image: Public domain

The government published a 50-page document after the Prime Minister’s broadcast at the weekend and said fashion stores could begin to reopen from early June, if they meet new Covid-19 safety and security guidelines.

But there’s unlikely to be an opening free-for-all with the government promising further guidance to come. It also said businesses that require physical contact, like hairdressers and beauty salons, may need to remain closed until July.

Following this, the BRC’s chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Retailers desperately need clarity in the rules regarding when and how they can open — details that are still lacking. Safety must be the primary concern in these decisions, rather than size or type of shop”.

What’s most unclear though is how willing consumers will be to re-enter shops before a vaccine or effective treatment for the worst form of Covid-19 have been found.

A survey of more than 2,000 consumers by retail SaaS provider Qudini found that many are unwilling to go into shops and that could mean retailers need to adapt with a bigger focus on omnichannel and more tech that enables socially distanced physical shopping. 

About 37% of Britons are currently holding back from going into stores, even those that have been allowed to stay open. And 43% have cut back sharply on shopping trips. 

It’s hard to tell what this will translate into post-lockdown as so few shops have been open recently. But just before the lockdown was announced, the survey showed 22% were avoiding grocery stores, 37% avoiding pharmacies and between 72% and 81% avoided all other types of retailers, which underscores the sales plunges seen by fashion retailers.

And even at essential stores, 42% said they’re now “more likely” to use click & collect services, which means they shouldn’t need to linger in shops for too long.

It all shows a general reluctance to enter shops or to stay inside them for any significant period of time, which could suppress any pent-up demand in the weeks after stores reopen.

Interestingly too, this reluctance seems to be seen across all age groups. The survey showed 38% Generation X, 37% of Millennial, 36% of Gen Z and 35% of Baby Boomer respondents were more likely to increase their use of click & collect services during the outbreak. And that behaviour coudl continue in the post-lockdown period if people are still afraid of the virus.


While on the surface that may not be good news for physical shops, Qudini’s CEO and co-founder, Imogen Wethered, said it could be “a catalyst for a new, more omnichannel-focused future. This would be a positive step for any retailer, as omnichannel customers are known for spending more.” 

It means more physical shops need to include enhanced click & collect services that can reassure customers and also encourage them to spend.

Meanwhile, Will Broome, founder and CEO of retail tech specialist Ubamarket, said retailers need to be prepared for the fact that “the retail landscape to which they are set to return is vastly different from the one they left some weeks ago”.

He said that “despite the havoc that is being caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus, I believe that the crisis is bringing into focus a number of pre-existing problems with the way in which we shop. Ever-changing store layouts, outdated queues and checkouts, and the lack of communication between retailers and their customers are just some of the issues that Covid-19 has made very clear”.

And he added that the question facing retailers isn’t "when will things go back to normal" but rather "how can we adapt our offering to make sure we are aligned with the changing trends and new retail landscape?"

He feels embracing new technology “holds the key to building the future of retail that supports our new shopping habits while also helping retailers to safeguard themselves against future cases of irregular consumer behaviour. People will be more hygienic and convenience-conscious, and retailers will be looking for ways to adapt to the shift in consumer behaviour and protect themselves against future shortages”.

That could mean physical retailers using apps more to remove “the need for time-consuming queues, unhygienic checkouts, and confusion about where products are and whether they are in stock”.

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