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EDITORIAL Embracing cyclical omni-channel

Summer: happier times to come for retailers? (Image: Fotolia)

With Black Friday now less than 100 days away, there are conflicting views as to just how ‘high street’ this year’s peak season is going to be.

A few months back, most people in retail were wondering if there would be a peak this year as the pandemic took hold. Now, the debate has moved on to where that peak might be.

Research by Emarsys sits firmly on the side of it being an online Christmas, with Black Friday kicking things off in late November and shoppers expected to spend at similar levels to previous years, only via the web, not stores.

However, the latest ONS figures out this week on shopping trends in July finds that, surprisingly, online dropped 7% and the high street saw something of a resurgence – actually seeing 2% growth, which far outstrips economist predictions as recently as June that the re-opening of stores would only yield a 0.2% rise in high street sales.

In fact, the high street sales were 3% higher than July last year.

So what gives? Well, three months of isolation at home and no opportunity to head to the shops seems to have seen many shoppers rush to get out and about.

Travel restrictions have also seen many more people staycationing in the UK, which has also led to a rise in the number of people shopping in holiday high streets.

The government’s pledge to pay for half your dinner if you go out to eat is also driving footfall.

Some also suggest that, having saved a lot by not going out or doing anything much since March, many consumers are feeling flush and are prepared to spend.

The problem comes as things cool down and the nights draw in. When the schools go back and general coughs and colds start to take hold, there is the threat of localised lockdowns, perhaps even national ones and a sinking in confidence about the safety of going out.

This is likely to see many return to the online realm to do their shopping, not least in the run up to Christmas. While the ONS figures show that online has dropped 7%, it is still by far and away in a more dominant position than it was before the pandemic and it is, for many, still the way they want to shop.

With many retailers betting on online being the (near) future – not to mention many big names such as M&S, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Amazon and more switching their business models to be much more online and delivery focussed – it looks likely that the winter months could still be hard for the high street.

This could well be the future pattern of retail. With Coronavirus unlikely to just disappear, retailers need to start looking at a cyclical approach to omni-channel, with more ‘real world’ sales in the summer and a much more online-centric model in the winter months.

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