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EDITORIAL Billy Ray Cyrus, sustainability and other threats to modern retail

Ominous times for retailers?

Ominous times for retailers?

There is a miasma hovering over the world; a pestilence stalking us like tender prey; a crow of destruction flapping blackly down. We seem to be living in a Nick Cave song.

Just what impact is the ever-present threat of Corona Virus – or ‘Billy Ray Cyrus’ as it is ‘official’ cockney rhyming slang would have it – going to have on us?

While a dose of the ‘Billy Rays’ could yet prove devastating to High Street retail, it is likely to be a boon to online: with people erring on the side of caution and ordering stuff remotely, ecommerce is set to see a big lift.

But how ready are retailers? The big news this week is John Lewis & Partners logging a third successive fall in profits. Despite being one of the most trusted brands on the High Street, according to YouGov, and Waitrose being Which? magazine’s top supermarket, it is struggling.

The problem it faces, like many, is that competition is fierce both on and offline and trying to service both well, while the ideal, is proving very difficult. In John Lewis’s case, it could be argued that currently it does neither well enough.

A strategic review is underway, but it is going to need to move fast – and who knows what new, unplanned for challenges Billy Ray is going to invoke? It could be a boon for online pure-plays and delivery companies, but could decimate already precarious multi-channelers who have an expensive high street presence.

Likewise, the shift among shoppers to wanting to be more sustainable is set to hit retailers hard too. Research by the Fashion Retail Academy reveals that that more than half of UK shoppers (51.4%) are choosing long-lasting clothes over cheaper fashionable items, up 33.8% on a year ago.

On top of that, the proportion of shoppers who consciously opt for fast fashion — typically cheaper, more fashionable items — has fallen 46.2% in the same period to a meagre 14% of consumers.

This is set to be a headache for many retailers – not just in apparel – as not only are they going to the high street less, but they now look to actually be buying less. In many ways, this is set to be an even larger problem than Covid-19, unseasonal weather and recession, if it has legs.

One retailer attempting to head this off at the pass is H&M, which this week has pledged to reduce more greenhouse gases than it emits by 2030 through a mixture of efficiency and renewable energy. p includes a commitment to making the first two tiers of its supply chain climate neutral by 2030.

Ahead of this, it aims to make the first two tiers of its supply chain climate-neutral as well as use 100% recycled or sustainable materials by 2030.

It is also now opening up its supply chain to third parties to help them become more sustainable. An interesting new business model if it can pull it off.

Another area of concern this week – made all the more prescient by the shift to online as we all stay indoors, self-isolating – centres around reviews. Increasingly, online shoppers have turned to reviews to help make purchasing decisions, hoping that the experience of others will help mitigate the inability to see, hear, smell, touch or taste the goods before buying.

But with many relying on these epistles, there is a worry that many are fake – and that there is a growing need for a new set of rules to government this. On the flip-side, a second study finds that a large number of shoppers feel that brands censoring reviews is damaging their rights to free speech.

Fake new. Fake reviews – now, that sound more like a Billy Ray Cyrus song to me than one of Mr Caves. Worrying times indoors and out.

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