Retail and the Coronavirus – Do you Multichannel?

There can be absolutely no doubt that the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is having profound effects on every aspect of life. Unprecedented measures are currently being taken by governments Worldwide to mitigate the damage this disease is inflicting on citizens and because of this retail is suffering. Or is it?

Shifting Priorities

Whilst purchasing patterns have definitely shifted in the past week towards essential items, specialist retailers such as for example online vape shops have seen massive increases in demand.

Those specialist retailers who have been used to a Multi-channel approach to retail will tell you that whilst ‘bricks and mortar’ footfall has decreased over the past week, online orders have increased markedly. The uplift in sales is especially apparent for those retailers utilizing Amazon fulfillment as part of their Multi-channel selling strategy.  This is almost certainly because Amazon hold stock of items ready for dispatch in their many warehouses, but may also be because of Amazon’s robust delivery network and multiple delivery channel setup.

It’s pretty certain now that the Coronavirus is going to have a long-lasting effect on retail but it’s not all bad news. Those who have been perhaps a bit skeptical about the worth of eCommerce are going to find that having a good eCommerce website together with a reliable delivery partner is a must going forward, as is taking a Multi-channel approach to retail selling.

Moving Online

The UK Government has stated that the latest Coronavirus strategy is focused towards teasing out demand on our NHS until a vaccine has been developed and the health service is prepared for any re-emergence of the virus. This may mean that the current health emergency and all of the restrictions on travel and self-isolation may be stretched over 18 months or more.

Why is taking a multi-channel, eCommerce approach good news for retailers? Well, putting aside the obvious benefit of being fairly certain of being able to reach consumers, bricks and mortar retail, whilst providing a pleasant experience for consumers has a massively larger overhead than eCommerce, even given the announcements today about the easement of business rates.

The simple fact of the matter is that eCommerce is far cheaper to run than ‘bricks and mortar’ retail and allows any retailer to reach a substantially larger and more diverse pool of potential purchasers, based well outside of the locality of a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retail store.

If customers can’t physically come to your store, then selling your products via your eCommerce website, Amazon or Ebay account and getting them delivered is the fast and easy option to keep retail sales moving.

New Opportunities

One of my lecturers at University always used to start his lectures with Monty Python’s ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ from the movie The Life of Brian.  Whilst there’s no doubt Coronavirus is having a profound effect on all of our working and personal lives and some have had tragedy trust upon them, the shifting patterns of retail forced upon us do present some new opportunities.

The ease, speed and hassle-free nature of online shopping shouldn’t be news to anyone in 2020, but surprisingly many traditional retailers have seen their eCommerce strategy (if they have one) as a supplemental part of their retail business, not worthy of it’s own budget or planning.

If the current emergency tells us anything it’s that being able to actually get your hands on the goods that you need and want is paramount. Nobody wants to have to queue at supermarkets or get into conflicts with other shoppers over the last bottle of hand sanitizer on the shelf!

Being able to offer ‘delivered to your door’ retail when everyone is advising to minimise travel and social contact is a massive opportunity for those traditional retailers who are currently being hit hard with shortages of footfall to physical stores.  There may also be surprising shifts in shopping habits and product requests which will pinpoint those elusively exploitable ‘gaps in the market’, who knows… Hand sanitizer belt pouch anyone?

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