Why building resilience is the key to retail’s post-pandemic future

By Antony Lovell, VP applications at Vuealta

To the outsider, retailers appeared to struggle with the initial shockwaves of the pandemic. The reality is that different parts of the industry, and even within specific retailers, coped better than others. For instance, while in-store revenue will have fallen through the floor, online sales soared. Supermarkets that offered click and collect or had online delivery services fared better than those without. Restaurants already using online ordering services became takeaway only, while rivals without suffered.

But shockwaves as a result of the pandemic continue to ripple through society. To survive in the new normal, retailers must have a resilient omnichannel approach that allows them to react with speed.

The omnichannel opportunity

At the heart of the post-pandemic retailer is the understanding that what’s changed is distribution.

This affects retailers in different ways. For instance, a retailer may have had separate physical and ecommerce operations – employees, back office, warehousing, inventory, logistics and so on. When the pandemic hit, these sorts of retailers will have seen physical sales disappear overnight, while online became the major focus. As lockdowns relax, those bricks and mortar operations are going to be opening up, but in a different way to before – there may be greater emphasis on online, with stores seeing more traffic as click and collect or returns locations.

What happens if there are localised lockdowns, or second waves, or a new crisis? How do retailers react in such a way that minimises disruption? To do this effectively requires agility. Put another way, it demands an omnichannel approach.

A concept that has been widely discussed, if not successfully adopted by many, omnichannel means building a single customer experience across the entire brand, irrespective of the channel they engage with. A unified, aligned supply chain is a key enabler of this approach – ecommerce and bricks and mortar operations are aligned and use the same business functions, such as warehousing, logistics and inventory management.

However, for those retailers that have kept everything separate, being able to scale one up and the other down, or adjust suppliers and logistics to meet new delivery requirements, becomes time consuming, expensive and drawn out. If they don’t radically overhaul their organisation they will struggle to survive in a post-pandemic market.

Why? Because the future of retail rests on its resilience. By taking an omnichannel approach, retailers are able to quickly pivot between business models – should a lockdown be lifted, focus can turn to a bricks and mortar offering enhanced by ecommerce. At the same time, should restrictions be enforced, the focus can go back the other way, with more emphasis on digital channels.

Omnichannel is not easy – being able to design a system that can deliver a quality experience, irrespective of channel, with the flexible supply chain to support it, is complex. When over two thirds of businesses are looking to expand into new markets, implementing a new approach will be challenging. It requires connected planning, a clear understanding of how customers may react, and a complete and honest view of organisational capabilities to allow retailers to be able to respond intelligently.

Yet it is a clear route to building the resilience retailers need if they are to prosper in the post-pandemic world.

The resilient, omnichannel retailer

As retailers seek to accelerate in a disrupted market, they need to adapt their operations to whatever the new normal looks like. This can only be achieved by building agile and resilient approaches. Taking the omnichannel approach offers exactly what retailers need in order to be able to react quickly to dynamic circumstances and, importantly, thrive.

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