Discussions

Here at A1 Retail, we will be updating this page with comments and viewpoints from industry professionals on the latest news and changes in the retail industry. Watch this space! 

Do you have a comment on a change in the industry? Email abigail@a1mediamagazines.com.

June 2020

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Tuesday 23rd June: Boris Johnson’s Announcement

Hayley-Jayne Cone, Chief Customer Officer at JRNI, commented: “Relaxing the 2m distancing rule will undoubtably be good for business and essential for getting the great British high street, including our pubs and restaurants back on their feet.  However, it also has its challenges. Now shops, banks, pubs and restaurants have to go back to the drawing board.  Businesses will need to bring staff back from furlough to cope with more customers, retrain staff and rethink footfall management. 

Then there’s talk of second waves and pockets of regional lockdowns as the new track and trace app pinpoints local risk centres. So, the rules could just as easily change again.  The real challenge here isn’t just getting the UK high street/pubs/restaurants back in business, it is keeping them in business. Any business wanting to reopen and stay open needs to be able to adapt to a fast-changing environment within hours. Many are not only talking about keeping their own businesses afloat, but also how they offer a differentiated experienced compared to others that are open, to make people want to come back after their first post-lockdown shopping outing. 

Technology is the key to the success of our high streets, pubs and restaurants now. Those that are able to offer virtual queuing slots, automated footfall management, kerbside click and collect or virtual personal shopping experiences are the ones that will be able to adapt fast at the push of a button. They are ahead of the game and already winning customer trust, providing an enhanced customer experience whilst ensuring compliance with whatever the current guidelines are.” 

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Emma Odell, Co-founder of Chelmsford based Italian restaurant A Canteen, commented: “The new Government guidelines today will help us get business back to an exciting new normal.  We’re a usually a bustling all day dining bar, restaurant and events venue at the centre of Chelmsford. We had over 50 staff before lockdown and have had to adapt really fast. At first we offered some take away click and collect, coffee pop-ups and takeaway beer and cocktails. It’s kept us going. But the 4th July is the date we’re really working towards.  

We’ve been able to adapt so fast because we invested in new cloud based app technology, goodeats which enables us to open safely. It is affordable, easy to use and fully automated between front of house and the kitchen. Customers just need to download the app for our virtual menus, contactless ordering and payment.

By using goodeats we can manage footfall within the premises to avoid queues and overcrowding. We can more easily maintain a one metre distance between staff and customers which is good for everyone’s anxiety levels coming out of lockdown. Our bookings system securely manages our customers’ personal details in the event of a local outbreak to help with contact tracking and tracing.

goodeats was up and running in a matter of two days, enabling us to innovate and try new things. We can now set up pop-up food pick up locations and even, if we deem it necessary, book appointments for toilet stops to avoid queues. 

It is so important that we follow the guidelines when we open on the 4th July. Our staff were telling us how nervous they were at the thought of returning, but by combining this technology with training means that we are all far more confident. We can’t wait to open on July 4th and welcome our loyal customers back inside for fun, food and drink in a safe environment.”

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Nigel Naylor-Smith, Head of Retail and Hospitality, Fujitsu UK, commented: “Since lockdown was first announced in March, UK pubs have been forced to close their doors to customers in their droves in order to abide by social distancing measures. Now that the Prime Minister has announced these measures will be relaxed, however, the outlook is a little less bleak for the hospitality sector and many can begin to think about reopening on 4th July.

But customers will only feel comfortable returning to pubs willing to implement their own social distancing measures from next month, and particularly those enforcing them in a way that keeps both colleagues and customers safe. From limiting guest numbers, to segregating front of house and back of house colleagues, and even managing access to toilets, pubs will need to boost consumer confidence from the outset in order to drive footfall and overall sales.

As we approach 4th July, it will be just as important that pubs and restaurants share their plans for socially distanced queues and disposable sauces ahead of time to retain the same customer loyalty. As lockdown measures continue to relax, pubs and restaurants must be meticulous about the health and safety of their customers and colleagues if they are to make sure those numbers translate into sales over the coming months.”

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Monday 22nd June 2020: ONS retail statistics

Sam Counterman, Director of Marketing, Northern Europe & Global Digital Lead at Selligent Marketing Cloud, commented:

“Ecommerce has driven retail forward through lockdown in ways that no one anticipated. Many brands have, arguably, survived the pandemic purely based on the strength of their online proposition and digital channels alone. This dependence on online channels to drive sales will continue over the coming months, despite the fact that lockdown measures are being eased, and that bricks n’ mortar retailers are starting to open up and trade again. This is because consumers are anxious about shopping in the ‘real world’ and confidence is low. 

To combat this, retailers must develop robust ecommerce strategies that complement their instore proposition and broader customer experience. Aside from the convenience offered by online shopping, ecommerce helps to alleviate some shoppers’ anxieties about shopping in physical stores and could also be perceived as a USP for some retailers. For retailers, online shopping also presents a tremendous opportunity to utilise consumer driven data. Brands can use these customers’ insights to develop more relevant and personalised shopping experiences that adds value when it matters most, ultimately forging deeper and stronger long-term customer relationships.”

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Ed Whitehead, Managing Director EMEA, Signifyd, commented: “Retailers are facing two tough realities — many consumers’ finances are under pressure and many consumers are anxious about returning to shop in stores. Retailers can overcome these challenges by focusing on offering a different, but still great, shopping experience.

It’s hard to imagine in the COVID-19 era that the in-store environment can live up to the fun, almost recreational, experience that shoppers enjoy. Instead, consumers will be looking for reassurance. They’ll want safe-distancing markers. They’ll want to see frequent cleaning and contactless payment. In short: Safety is the new experience.

Ecommerce must be a crucial part of this wider shopping experience. Our data shows ecommerce sales up 193% over pre-pandemic levels. Consumers have embraced the channel and it needs to work seamlessly, so that shoppers have a choice: They can buy online when they want to and they can visit a store for those things they’d truly like to touch and see.

As online shopping thrives, retailers will also likely see an increase in fraud and consumer abuse. Fraud rings are seizing on the disruption of COVID-19 to launch sophisticated attacks. Some consumers are looking to take advantage, for instance, by claiming an ecommerce order never arrived, even though it had. Retailers, then, need to be ready to better serve their customers while protecting themselves from those who seek to take advantage.” 

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Karen Johnson, Head of Retail & Wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, commented: “The prevailing trend in these statistics is clear – spend is down versus 2019 – however there is a lot more going on in this sector than this top-level headline lets on.

Despite shops taking their first tentative steps towards reopening in May, the long-term future of the high street will be something that the sector keeps a keen eye on. UK office workers account for a significant proportion of the footfall in shopping centres and town centres around the country, so (with any return to the office likely to be very gradual) UK retailers will be looking at ways to adapt to this new geographic distribution of their customer base.

Another topic of interest is the experience economy, which was an area of growth at the start of this year. The willingness of consumers to spend on experiential activities has been tempered by the lockdown – with many experience providers having to shut their doors – and we have seen a larger share of the consumer wallet being spent on every-day and household purchases, as people spend an increasing amount of time at home. As all-kinds of shops and businesses begin to open their doors with the easing of lockdown, the balance of this spend will be a key area to watch in the months ahead.”

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Ryan Kemp, Director of retail at TransUnion in the UK, commented: “The ONS retail sales data has given us reason for cautious optimism as overall volumes rebounded slightly in May, up 12% compared to the record falls in April. However, the impact of COVID-19 is still very much being felt, with figures 13.1% down on pre-pandemic volumes in February. This is largely due to the enforced closures of most stores, with high streets up and down the country having seen only a fraction of their usual footfall.

These past couple of months have been some of the toughest the retail sector has ever had to endure, with thousands of jobs lost as even leading-name chains are forced to restructure. Even with the reopening of the high street this week, we’re unlikely to see a dramatic change in the immediate future, given the impact of the pandemic on consumer finances. According to our recent research, of those who have been negatively financially impacted, seven in 10* are struggling to pay bills, so it’s no surprise that only essential items are seen as a priority purchase.

Social distancing has fundamentally changed the retail sector and consumer attitudes to shopping. Online shopping has been adopted out of necessity, even by the digitally-reluctant, leading to a boom – with the proportion spent online hitting a record high of 33.4% in May. This rise in online spending presents a huge opportunity for cybercriminals, however, so retailers and consumers alike must be vigilant and take all steps possible to prevent fraud.

The biggest driver of growth behind this month’s rebound has been non-food stores, fuelled by a 42% increase in household goods stores, as hardware and DIY stores were allowed to reopen. As consumers are spending more time than ever in the home, these retailers have seen the benefit.

As we look to how the retail industry may start to recover, the government has called on people to spend and stimulate economic growth. The success of this strategy will be dependent on a number of factors but there’s an enormous task here for retailers who must adapt, not only to the additional health and safety measures, such as limited numbers in-store, the two-metre distancing rule and closed changing rooms – but also to the shift in consumer habits. With online shopping now the norm, attracting customers back for what may seem a limited in-store experience is no easy task. They will need to be flexible and resilient as we continue to navigate these unprecedented challenges.”

* Based on a survey of 1,023 UK adults conducted 28 – 29 May as part of TransUnion’s Financial Hardship Study

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Jacqui Baker, Director and Retail Specialist at RSM, commented: “According to the latest figures issued by the Office of National Statistics, UK retail sales rebounded by 12 per cent when compared with the record falls in April, although May was still a difficult month for retailers with total sales down by 13.1 per cent on the pre-coronavirus norm.

With pubs and restaurants still closed, two sunny bank holidays and the easing of some lockdown measures, people took to the parks for picnics and gardens for BBQs. As a result, the food sector understandably held its own with overall sales not far short of March’s record high.  

Online boomed, with the overall proportion of sales soaring to a record 33.4 per cent. It’s clear that consumers have formed new habits and it will be interesting to see how many shoppers will return to the high streets from 15 June.

The figures added to hopes that the economic recovery will be faster than predicted following April’s record low sales figures. The resumption of non-essential retail will play a crucial role in kick-starting the UK’s economy after figures from the ONS last week showed GDP decreased by a record 20.4 per cent in April. With the Government Covid-19 support strategies starting to fall away, huge costs to implement social distancing measures, low footfall and uncertain consumer confidence, retailers need ongoing support from landlords and funders to keep their physical stores open.

June is seen as a crucial month in determining if the euphoria surrounding the reopening of the high street translates into spending at the tills. Last weeks’ press certainly suggests that many consumers are eager to return to the shops with images of long queues outside some stores. However, the reality is that the bargain hunters fizzled out after day one and footfall is still down 55 per cent on last year. Strict social distancing measures and low-consumer confidence are certainly taking their toll.

Other factors that may hinder June’s results include the ongoing closure of retail stores in both Wales and Scotland, and the continued closure of some stores in England where businesses deem the climate too unstable to reopen.

Let’s hope consumers listen to Boris Johnson’s wise words when he insisted that people ‘should shop and shop with confidence’.”

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Sara Korchmaros, Chief Commercial Officer at Recash, commented: “Britain’s tills are no longer silent, but they are far from ringing.

Despite the pick-up in spending in May, sales remain a shadow of their pre-Covid level in most sectors.

Crucially, the partial re-opening of the high street in May has done nothing to slow the march online.

With a third of all spending now being done online, bricks and mortar retailers have a mountain to climb to tempt shoppers back into physical stores.

For all the excitement last week about the reopening of non-essential shops in England, the industry is racing to catch up with consumers’ changing tastes.

Just because the high street is open, there’s no guarantee people will come, and a recent YouGov poll found half could stay away.

Physical retailers who spent years making their stores attractive, inviting and conducive to spending have had to install chicanes and phalanxes of safety measures that hardly shout ‘come in and browse’.

Lockdown has introduced millions more shoppers to the ease, and safety, of online browsing and May’s record-breaking shift to online sales is unlikely to be the high-water mark.

As the lockdown restrictions continue to ease, all retailers, both online and on the high street, face a new struggle with fragile consumer confidence and rapidly evolving shopper tastes.

Goodwill will not suffice to get them back on track, and technology which helps them attract shoppers more strategically will become essential not just for growth, but for survival.”

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Monday 15th June 2020: Reopening of non-essential Retail 

David Fox, Co-Head of Retail Agency at Colliers International, commented: “From looking at the response in other countries and retail sectors in the UK which have already opened up, the indications are that footfall will increase significantly on the UK’s high streets with the re-opening of all physical retail stores from 15th June onwards. Yet despite the fact that there could be plenty of people out there shopping, this will not necessarily translate to money in the tills.  The main issue and challenge that lies ahead will be how retailers turn footfall and customer enthusiasm, into sales.  Essentially Monday is just the next phase of a very difficult problem – the first step to recovery.

“Due to the social distancing measures and strict Government protocols that retailers need to adhere to, there will be a mismatch of customers desire to shop and businesses ability to meet the demand. The difficulty for retailers will be the logistics of the new health, safety and hygiene policies within the stores, with skeleton staffing to manage queuing and perform their sales duties. This is challenging to each individual store, but also the wider shopping environment as headcount restrictions, limitations on public transport, a widening of congestion fees and car park quotas further impact the Government guidelines.

“We anticipate that  the younger demographic will take advantage of the lifting of restrictions to socialise and visit retail destinations, but not necessarily with that much spending power, while the older generation will take a more cautious approach due to the risk of exposure. Future analysis of the effects of Covid 19 and the lockdown will focus on how the last three months have heightened the move to buying online. Retailers will continue to scrutinise their cost base in order to manage costs, and for some to simply survive, and this will continue the pressure on shopping centres and High Streets throughout the UK. Consumption is the greatest driver of our economy – the last three months have brought into ever sharper focus the need to understand how we prefer to spend, and the differing dynamics of spending patterns in the wider demographic. It is accepted that there is an oversupply of retail space in the UK, as a direct result of the pandemic the changes already expected in the decades to come will be accelerated through government and private intervention.  

“From a real estate perspective, a large proportion of landlords will continue to resist committing to deferring or writing off rental arrears until the effects on turnover of re-opening under restrictions can be understood. It will be unrealistic to expect those retailers who have effectively been closed since March to meet financial commitments without the benefit of normal transaction levels. This will continue to have ramifications for the months ahead, and set the template for the future of retail in the UK.”

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Nikki Baird, VP of Retail Innovation, Aptos, commented: “First and foremost retailers should understand that when stores re-open there will be no ‘returning to normal’.  It will take a long time for retail sales to return to what they were pre-COVID-19, and the structure of these sales will be very different. The pandemic has revealed that omnichannel is a necessity. Even for transactions that still take place in a store, consumers will want to know if something they’re looking for is in stock before they go to the store. Consumers will also increasingly expect the option to have click and collect.

“Whilst in-store social distancing will present a challenge for retailers, with the correct strategies in place it is possible to still provide a safe and satisfying customer experience. Stores should implement policies including providing the necessary PPE equipment for staff, a cap on customers in stores and daily or hourly deep cleanings. Many Chinese retailers have also noted that since reopening stores they have seen greater demand for contactless commerce. UK retailers should be taking note of these key learnings and making the necessary technological investments to ensure that they are in the best position to welcome customers back into stores.

“Consumers will come back to stores, for a variety of reasons. They won’t do it quickly – they want to feel like it’s safe and they can trust that brands are doing everything they can to take care of them – but as we’ve seen in China and other places that are opening up, they do come back.

“As recovery gets underway, it’s less about the channel and much more about the customer – how do you ensure that you keep the customers you have and get them spending again? If demand is depressed, retailers will have to focus more on growing existing customer relationships rather than acquiring new ones. That said, retailers also need to be careful about the pace with which they try to revive sales – they can’t be reckless with customer or employee health. Retailers should be focused on consumer needs and how to meet those needs, rather than focusing on trying to drive consumers to stores. But as requirements ease, stores can and should play a role in being a part of the community. I think people will want to feel a part of a community again after spending so much time at home, so customer appreciation, events, services – these were all growing in importance for stores anyway, and I think the demand shift will require retailers to put extra emphasis here going forward, once it is appropriate to do so safely.”

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Rob Shaw, Managing Director EMEA at Fluent Commerce, commented: “There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for retailers. The initial shock of lockdown is over and businesses are starting to return. In the short term, the priority is on preparing physical stores for reopening in accordance with new government regulations. However, when it comes to the longer-term, the key issue that’s been highlighted with the recent pandemic is that retailers need to re-evaluate their business continuity and disaster recovery strategies.

“The last few months have showcased the need for business flexibility. Many retailers are shackled by their processes, their structures and their technologies. Technology should be an enabler – never a constraint. There are three key areas that retailers should be prioritising. First, ensuring they have a single view of inventory wherever it might be – in a store, in transit, in a warehouse etc. Second, building in scalability and reliability. And third, creating an infrastructure that’s flexible and accessible, one that can adapt to change. Only by investing in technologies that enable omni-channel offerings, transparent inventory and stock solutions will retailers be able to best-prepare for the uncertainties and unknowns that the future will undoubtedly bring. To paraphrase a quote from Charles Darwin: “… the species that will survive is the one that will best adapt and adjust to the changing environment’.”

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Jessica Murphy, Co-founder at True Fit, commented:“In-store safety can be incorporated into a seamless customer journey rather than adding friction, and in fact, even where some friction is inevitable, lightness of touch can balance hygiene and convenience. Leverage the pre-pick up opportunity to remove friction that emerges from kerbside collection for instance, where shoppers can’t try clothing and shoes on in-store. Identify opportunities for shopper engagement through digital channels, like replacing fitting rooms with personalised fit and style guidance.

Retailers that have the right data, fit technology and appropriate integration between stores and online are well positioned as customer reticence to try clothes on increases. Fit technology both online and in-store will give the customer confidence that they are making perfect choices for their wardrobe, choices that can be supported by store staff making themselves available as virtual assistants.  Enhancing customer service by connecting a chatbot – something Levi’s are currently considering – or a virtual stylist becomes even more powerful when linked to shopper data, presenting an opportunity for growth.  For customers wanting more service, store staff can act as personal shoppers by engaging through Instagram, FaceTime, Google Hangouts etc., tours of the store and rails, one-to-one advice about garments as part of virtual styling sessions, and manage the whole process right through to payment and delivery.”

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Dejan Subosic, President of Deep North EMEA, commented: “Brick and mortar businesses are in need of unique solutions that drive growth, provide adaptability, enable sales, and ensure the safety of their customer base as we slowly return to normality.

Technology that can measure store occupancy and instore movements will help ease retailer’s willingness to open up their stores and welcome back their customers under these new circumstances

It´s more important than ever that companies and institutions that manage physical spaces start understanding their data so that they can better guarantee the safety of their visitors and customers. Data in the physical world is no longer a nice to have – it’s a need to have.”

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Zach Thomann, Executive Vice President & General Manager at PFS, commented:“The re-opening of our much-loved UK high street today has come as music to the ears of both brick-and-mortar retailers and consumers alike. However, as the lockdown restrictions ease, retail as we know it will be very different.

As changing rooms remain closed indefinitely, we are likely to see an increase in in-store technology such as Augmented and Virtual Reality, as well as 3D visualisation. Technologies such as these, along with interactive mirrors, allow customers to try on outfits both online and offline without needing to touch or interact with the product. Virtual apps that allow online customers to try on items such as watches or glasses are also coming to the forefront, paving a new way for how consumers interact with a range of brands. We could also see more brands offering virtual experiences such as makeup tutorials and tests, and others following a kerbside pick-up model to limit the number of touchpoints required to complete an order.

Whilst now is certainly the time to enhance store performance and deliver a new customer experience, retailers must not forget about the successes of the online channel and the further developments that can be made to drive forward a solid omnichannel experience. ‘Buy online, pick up in-store’ (BOPIS) and ship from store models will continue to grow in importance as consumers remain hesitant around interactivity.”

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Stefan Spendrup, Vice President of Sales at SOTI, commented: “From today, all non-essential shops will be allowed to re-open in England, following the easing of lockdown restrictions. Whilst this is a significant step to kickstarting the UK economy and get consumers spending again, strict regulations will undoubtedly have an impact on the way people shop. Therefore, it is imperative that retailers adopt the right strategies to complement and accommodate what will inevitably be a radically different shopping experience and set of consumer habits.

Retailers have been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, so the role that in-store experiences will have in the future, especially when it comes to customer acquisition, is fundamental. The level of experience customers expect in a post-COVID-19 world could be very different, with retailers having to invest to make sure they can create a safe and engaging shopping environment. It is likely that consumers will continue to hold fears over COVID-19 so it is important for retailers to help allay those concerns while also providing a great customer experience. One approach that many retail organizations are taking is to adopt a mobile-first strategy. For instance, innovations such as Mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) and contactless payments can alleviate any worries shoppers have about handling cash or card terminals, and enable retailers to operate more efficiently at the same time.

Many retailers have had to patiently wait with stores full of stock which, they haven’t been able to shift, so knowing exactly where items are located and in what quantities will be essential for retailers looking to sell surplus stock that may now be out of season. By adopting a mobile-first strategy, retailers will gain visibility across their entire on and offline operations to streamline the value chain, from supply to distribution to shop floor. In fact, 67.3% of consumers perceive mobile technology as the most effective way to provide a faster shopping experience, according to recent research from SOTI.

To survive in today’s volatile and uncertain climate, deploying technology that will reassure shoppers, build better and stronger customer relationships, and improve the agility of retailers and their ability to adapt to new changes, will be in high demand.”

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Gavin Prior, Operations Director at intu, commented: “We’re delighted to be welcoming more people back to intu centres from today. There has been a wonderful vibe at every intu centre since even before we opened, with socially distanced queues forming from early this morning.  Our visitors have been playing their part by staying socially distanced and following all the other safety measures we have in place to make sure our centres are safe places to visit and work. It’s great to see all our teams’ hard work and planning come into action.

In preparation for this week, we carried out some research with 2,000 regular shopping centre visitors which that found that many people were looking forward to returning to shops if there were the right safety measures and we have certainly seen that come true today. It is clear from the queues that people have been excited about returning to the shops and we are doing everything we can to make that experience both safe and joyful.

Footfall across all intu centres is naturally lower than the same day last year but by 2pm today had grown by 218% compared to last Monday and we expect the number of visitors to steadily increase towards the weekend as more of us look to venture out to the shops and more brands reopen. Around 40% of the shops in intu centres are open today and many more are planning on reopening over the next week or two as they continue to put the right safety measures in place.

We’d like to thank all the teams at intu and all the brands in our centres who have been working incredibly hard to make sure intu centres are safe places to visit and work.”

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Kaspar Korjus, co-founder and COO, Pactum, commented: “Whilst retail is no longer lost, it is not out of the woods. The vast majority of retailers have had their operations stall in the last few months which means that they may need to restart or re-evaluate relationships with suppliers and partners to enable their operations to resume. At the heart of this challenge is negotiating and renegotiating a massive number of supplier agreements.

AI powered negotiations can enable UK retailers to renegotiate a huge number of supplier agreements, giving them the power to react to demand and changing economic circumstances far quicker than normal. In the context of the UK retail industry, retailers will be able to plan far more effectively. In addition to this, it means they can ensure their supply chains don’t go underwater, by easing contract terms for their suppliers, all powered automatically by AI negotiation, which is a method more likely to achieve mutually beneficial agreements than human negotiators. Supporting these supply chains in this way means that those retailers won’t need to build supply chains from the ground up again once the crisis recedes.

AI negotiation is one piece of the puzzle, but it will certainly help retailers during this difficult transition, as they realign their business models in light of this pandemic, and prepare for when this is all over.”

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Richard Aspinall, SVP UK at GTT, commented: “As many non-essential retailers reopen for the first time since March, they will need to adapt stores for a shopper experience that’s never been seen before. From smart shopping trolleys that act as self-service checkouts on wheels, to scan and pay mobile phone apps and virtual reality showrooms, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new technologies that blend in-store and online practices in order to create a contactless retail experience, that is safe.

One key question is, do retailers have the right network in place to support and delivering a frictionless customer experience or will they need to rethink and upgrade their existing retail ICT infrastructure.

As retailers experiment with new in-store technologies, they will need to cope with the growing bandwidth demand that in-store applications create. New networking approaches, such as SD-WAN, make the network simpler to configure and ensures traffic takes the most direct, lowest latency path to support critical customer-facing applications. It can also support more cost-effective connectivity requirements.

A recent GTT survey showed that retailers expect SD-WAN to bolster security, benefit the customer experience and offer improved resilience. As the industry heads toward an ever more unified commerce experience, it must implement the supporting infrastructure. One that enables wide-spread internet access to support new customer service models, greater network performance for contactless point of sale terminals, and that ensures personal data remains protected and complies with industry security standards.”

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Nigel Naylor-Smith, Head of Retail and Hospitality at Fujitsu, commented: “Amidst some of the most difficult operating conditions the industry has seen, non-essential retailers are re-opening their doors today to consumers. With shopper numbers on the high street already beginning to claw their way back up, this move should offer the sector some much needed respite and a chance to reinvigorate its fortunes and sales after months of shoppers prioritising online channels.

It is now crucial that stores ensure shoppers are comfortable returning in-store; from publicising well implemented social distancing measures, such as limiting the number of customers in store, to keeping restaurants and play areas closed, and even allowing customers to pick up click-and-collect items from the car park. Not only this, but many stores are offering competitive deals and sales to incentivise shoppers. Ultimately, the onus is now on physical retailers to boost consumer confidence which, in turn, will help drive footfall, overall sales and strengthen the UK’s economy.”

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Sian Hopwood, SVP B2B EMEA at BluJay Solutions, commented: “As the UK lockdown is lifted, retailers must be on their toes when it comes to predicting and meeting customer demand with supply chain agility and resiliency.

With further economic uncertainty on the horizon, it’s more important than ever that retailers have visibility and control over every aspect of the supply chain. Only this way can they meet changing expectations and requirements of the customer experience, the most valuable supply chain differentiator for brands. Control is only achievable with end-to-end visibility from warehouse to store, flexibility to accommodate quickly changing trends, and optimisation to ensure that operations can efficiently and effectively scale. Without the right tools, retailers could oversupply before customers have truly taken to the high street again, or fail to meet demand when it arises. 

By relying on data, retailers can understand, monitor and swiftly cater to demand. With technology to automate previously manual, disconnected processes, businesses can scale operations seamlessly, with lower error rates, greater speed, better visibility, and lower cost. These benefits add up to improved customer loyalty and business agility.  

The most important factor for retailers at this time is flexibility. By using technologies which enable a reaction to changing attitudes in real-time, retailers can ease themselves into the post-COVID world without a hitch. Huge benefits exist for retailers that can carefully navigate their supply chain through this period: customer trust, a reputation for resilience, and the crucial safeguarding of business continuity in the long-term.” 

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Wayne Snyder, VP Retail Industry Strategy EMEA at Blue Yonder, commented: “Retailers need to act flexibly and treat this as a ‘Temporary Normal’: the ‘New Normal’ will come further down the road, when COVID-19 is no longer a threat. They must adapt to this unique scenario, making themselves flexible enough to respond to changes in shopping behaviour, while also keeping staff and customers safe. For example, how are stores going to manage limited physical interaction with shoppers and what will be the impact of certain items being placed in quarantine for a number of days?  A lot could be learned from shops that remained open and adapted their operations during lockdown, whether that’s stripping back the range of products and services on offer, or offering Click & Collect pick-ups outside stores.

Retailers will be keen to get tills ringingbut their brand propositions and profits could be eroded by blockbuster sales. Rather than making broad-brush reductions, retailers must consider the best approach for individual items whether optimising price changes, extending product lifecycles to the Autumn, or identifying which items could be stored and sold next year. Some markdowns will be necessary, but these should happen on an item-by-item basis, rather than a wide-ranging half-price sale across everything. It is here where AI and machine learning can drive a much more intelligent approach to pricing, making recommendations on a range of factors including weather, availability, consumer demand and wider news events. This will make a crucial difference at a time when retailers need smart pricing strategies, to ensure unsold stock doesn’t sit on shelves in store or in warehouses.

During lockdown, consumers have forgiven retailers’ supply issues, but this honeymoon period won’t last much longer. To meet this challenge, many retailers will invest a lot more in their supply chains to drive greater flexibility, visibility and automation. As we return to some normality but with backdrop of the pandemic still in people’s minds, consumers will expect goods to be available in store to avoid making wasted trips, a store layout that keeps them safe, and a more unified digital experience overall. If retailers cannot get back up to speed and give people what they want, when they want it, many of their customers will not be back.”

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José Manuel Benedetti, Principal Architect at Insight, commented: “Shop staff will understandably have their reservations about returning to work, so making them feel safe needs to be a top priority. Screening, such as temperature checks, will help employees feel confident they and their colleagues are not showing signs of the virus. However, physical checks at an entrance can cause as many problems as they solve; creating crowded bottlenecks and making employees nervous. Instead, smart thermal cameras can see if employees have a raised temperature as they enter or move around the store; raising the alert if an employee might be sick and letting the retailer respond – from further tests, to checking where the employee has been and who they might have had contact with.

Retailers also need to be wary of their responsibilities to customers, and their customer-facing staff. Smart thermal cameras can help identify customers who might be sick, but they can also help make sure customers observe social distancing. By alerting shop staff when a customer is potentially ill, or isn’t social distancing, the retailer can make sure it acts in the right way: avoiding confrontation while also minimising the risk of infection. What any system needs isn’t just the right technology. It needs the right processes in place to treat staff and customers respectfully. For instance, retailers shouldn’t make a huge public reaction when they identify a potential COVID case, and need to be aware of how they use, store or delete the data they gather.

Finally, retailers can reduce risk by asking whether workers need to always be physically present to do their jobs. While there will always need to be customer-facing staff, many behind-the-scenes processes could be carried out differently. For example, warehouse stock checks could be automated using RFID tags, and if there appears to be a problem, smart glasses or AR headsets can give a remote first look. Essentially, remote working isn’t only for office jobs – retailers can feel the benefit too.”

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