It’s anybody’s guess what the new normal will look like either post lock-down or post corona-virus. The only thing that is certain is that it’s bound to be different from how it was before. The crisis is already pushing the U.K economy into recession and Its certain it will leave a big mark on how consumers live and how they spend their money.
Retailers in the U.K are facing many different challenges. Some are struggling to scale and keep up with the increased demand as they see their sales rise beyond their capacity; some are taking to limiting sales and customer volume; whilst some are seeing sales suddenly drop off a cliff.
These opposing challenges force very different responses, whilst one is looking at reducing costs and outgoings others are trying to deal with technical scaling and logistics issues. Never has there been such opposing issues within either the same companies or sector. You might argue that having a scaling issue is a nice problem to have. However, you must have one eye on the future and consider what you might do with all this extra capacity once things return to some level of normality, can you just turn the taps off, is this going to be the same now and in the future?
Customers are in part creating these opposites by doing things they have never done before, the obvious rise in online shopping has had a large effect on how we shop, however what we are buying and the volume of it has also changed.
There are the predictable shifts of using online grocery shopping during this period, but other more bizarre growths in things like garden furniture for instance due to lock-down, and things like gifting-wrapping services due to the fact we cannot do this easily via traditional methods.
Coping and Adapting…
The focus for many retailers now is drifting towards what do I need to think about or do once were back to some level of normality.
This raises an interesting point on what normal might look like. Whilst is difficult to predict the future, it’s quite likely that retailers will need to consider how this has affected their customers’ shopping patterns. Changes in customer behaviours are not likely to one hundred percent be reversed once our situation changes.
Science indicates that it takes something like two months for a behaviour change to become automatic. Something that is likely to influence us all as the situation continues.
I know from personal experience that my family will be continuing their online grocery shopping post this as they have overcome their initial fears and barriers and now see the upsides on this approach. Predictions are that at least 25% of customers will not return to what they did when we get to new normal.
Being close to your customers and understanding their needs has never been more important and will become paramount to succeeding during the new normal. Providing the services, they need, how they want, with minimal disruption and going the extra mile is likely to retain your customers. Focusing on what kind of experience you want to create for your customers, being personal and knowing what they want, giving an opinion and making it memorable.
Many retailers will also have to ask themselves “Can I operate at sub-scale?”, if not what do I need to do to adapt. Retailers will need to understand what new normal means for them, do I need to increase my prices to factor in reduced volume in customers or work out how I can significantly reduce my operating costs. Likely answer might include a bit of both.
The new normal whatever that is…
Retailers are likely to experience a paradigm shift in customers buying patterns and behaviours post lock-down. New normal is going to look significantly different from old normal. Factoring in that customers are going to be fearful of infection and that significant numbers of customers are likely to have less money to spend due furlough or redundancy. Combined with learning new ways to shop from new channels then any expectation that a return to old normal levels of customer behaviours and levels of business seems very unlikely.
Retailers need to be innovative during this period, “How are you going to be different from anybody else?” Providing customers with a better experience, giving them something they can’t get from either your competitors or online needs to be considered.
If you have a large brick and mortar estate, use it to your advantage, create personal experiences that will encourage your customers to make the effort to visit. Being different and providing services that others don’t is likely to be the factor that keeps one company going vs your competition.
There is also a view that there will be a resurgence of whole localisation of shopping, the traditional high-street if you will. Personally, I’m sure there is place for big outlets and local shopping to co-exist but changes in behaviour driven by the corona-virus to shop more locally and find those local agents could engender a change in our behaviours which will stick and grow in new normal.
As those customers who have adjusted during this period are likely to stick doing what they are doing either for some time or permanently. They will have shifted into other places or channels. This does make it harder to understand what the future state will look like. All we can say is that it won’t be the same as it was.