Just over two months ago, as lockdown started to ease, we explored the idea of Retail Resilience, and the digital approach or technology tactics that high-street stores and bars might adopt to help them trade as they re-opened their doors.
So, what’s happened? Have we seen swathes of new mobile apps and brand new retail user experiences?
Yes and no. Ten weeks is a long time in 2020. Lots has happened, lots hasn’t. As some rules slowly relax, others quickly reappear. And whilst the Bank of England now thinks that the downturn may not be as bad as initially anticipated, it also predicts a much slower return to pre-pandemic levels.
A lot is still up in the air, and this uncertainty makes it practically impossible for retailers to predict their future, but some have already taken positive steps to try and protect it.
Let’s revisit those themes from June.
1. Manage footfall
We highlighted the issue that social distancing guidelines can create bottlenecks and queues in and outside stores, and push customers online or to other stores. What’s now a mild inconvenience in warm Summer weather, might be a bigger challenge in Autumn and Winter. There were – we proposed – ways that technology might help. Could it?
Sainsbury’s are trying to find out. Last week, they announced their trial of a new mobile app for queue management that seeks to take that pain away for their shoppers. It’ll be interesting to see whether it gets rolled out nationally.
2. Distribute footfall
Over the last two months, we’ve spoken to a number of senior retail directors who’ve shared their challenges around footfall distribution. It’s not a new thing. For years stores and restaurants have tried to find ways to spread demand from peak periods across quieter times of the week. “It’s not just about what we take at the till,” said a senior grocer, “it’s about the service we can offer and the customer satisfaction we can manage. The recent health guidelines have exacerbated this issue.”
Restaurants and bars have moved first, quickly launching mobile booking solutions to predict customer numbers and – once full – promote quieter times. Plus, after early and expensive post-lockdown ‘no shows’, some are taking refundable deposits to reduce lost trade. At Apadmi, we’ve been working closely with Greater Manchester’s hospitality industry to release an innovative mobile app that manages bookings and orders, as well as important ‘track and trace’ details. We’re fiercely proud of the city, and the resilience and adaptability of the people in it, and want to do what we can to help businesses re-emerge safely and successfully. So, the mobile solution we’ve developed, Apordo, is free to restaurants, cafes and bars in the area for the next three months.
3. Be contactless
There’s still a lot of nervousness about setting foot in stores and touching shelves and items. According to a survey by Spark, nearly a third of shoppers said they were scared by the risk of contracting coronavirus in store, and 24% now feel “anxious or nervous” navigating the aisles.
Amazon have released their Distance Assistant too and made it open-source – so, in theory, any store can take advantage of an innovative approach to ensuring social distance between shoppers.
The large grocers are quickly rolling out Scan & Shop in more and more stores – Tesco, Asda, M&S, Co-op and Sainsbury’s continue to promote this more frictionless way to shop. In some Sainsbury’s stores, the number of people using SmartShop has exceeded 50% since the pandemic started.
Even the smallest shops are finding ways to help customers spend safely. Thirteen stores in St Albans have signed up to a contactless window shopping technology that connects high street browsers to online stores.
4. Maximise service
Last time, we wrote about the opportunity for the bricks and mortar stores to play their strongest hand – customer service. And whilst many have made it easier for people to book appointments in-store (eg. Selfridges), it might not be enough.
In fact, it’s the online retailers who have moved fastest. Zappos, the huge but online-only shoe seller, recently created a new online community that joins their staff with their customers. Customer Service For Anything is literally that. Online shoppers can get help from the Zappos team on whatever they need from holiday advice to photography tips to restaurant recommendations.
Other brands are making previous soulless internet shopping a much richer experience too. Popular in South Korea and China for a while, live-streamed shopping made its way to America at the end of June, when Clinique hosted its first livestream event, starring Emilia Clarke. The Game Of Thrones star took viewers through her beauty regime, and watchers were able to click to buy as they viewed.
The high-street needs to up its game, quickly.
5. Minimise disappointment
Before the pandemic, 31% of shoppers had used Click & Collect, to minimise disappointment and provide the instant gratification that the physical stores can still give. That number is rising and rising.
A US study by eMarketer shows that Click & Collect has grown by a staggering 60.4% in the last year.
The big players are moving quickly to adapt to this trend.
On August 4th, Waitrose announced that they were offering drive-through collection across 70 of their stores. Customers order online, park in a dedicated parking spot, and are greeted by a member of staff who brings their goods to them.
Others are creating new partnerships and collaborating to enable better and faster distribution. Last year, John Lewis joined forces with Apadmi’s client, the Co-op, to add 105 Co-op stores to their Click & Collect locations. In July 2020, they extended that partnership to 500.
These new distribution channels, powered by digital products, mobile apps and system integrations are creating the user experiences that the market demands, and in record time.
The pace of change over the last few months has been astounding. Retail rules have been torn up, as long-established businesses adapt to survive and to service the huge behavioural changes forced upon their customers. Amongst all the gloom, it’s been heartening to see flexibility, collaboration and drive across the retail and hospitality sectors, mitigated against the impact of new rules.
As a mobile-first, digital agency, it’s motivating for us to see how innovation from our industry is starting to deliver new growth.
Apadmi have been championing the idea of Digital Impact throughout 2020 as an antidote to sluggish change programmes and as a way to deliver digital products quickly. Some of the ideas that came out of sessions three months ago are already nearing fruition.
As the busiest trading period (don’t mention the C word) for nearly all retailers starts in just over 12 weeks, it’s not too late to quickly adapt further. We’d love to help so please get in touch if you think we can.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we’re helping organisations build their retail resilience, create innovative digital solutions, mobile apps and deliver systems integration for the key areas within their business, discover more of our work here.