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EDITORIAL From Gap and John Lewis to robotic click and collect: how the shape of retail continues to change

It was predictable that online sales would grow while non-essential stores stayed shut against coronavirus in May 2020. That much has been confirmed in today’s BDO High Street Sales Tracker, which shows record growth online – while store sales have fallen sharply. But the question now is what will happen when non-essential shops do reopen from June 15, as long the infection rate is under control. 

Today we report on how retailers have adapted while non-essential shops have been closed – and footfall has been down more generally in those stores that are open. Gap says that it has scaled up its online sales, and is investing in expanding a distribution centre. In Estonia, three grocery businesses have started to offer the option of robotic click and collect in order to keep staff and customers safe.

Even when John Lewis shops do reopen, many of the services they offered previously will not be able to start up yet. We report as the department store, and its sister supermarket Waitrose, puts some of those activities online – from virtual workshops to styling advice sessions

We also report as new figures show more than half of retail transactions involved cards in 2019 – thanks to the rise of contactless and of online shopping. No doubt the continued move away from cash as a result of Covid-19 will emphasise that shift still further next year.

Today’s guest comment comes from Michele Marzan of MainAd, who considers the changing role that retail brands now play in today’s world. 

It’s already clear that 2020 will be a year of upheaval for retail, and that upheaval may well lead to long-term changes in the way retailers sell and customers wan to buy. But the power to set that direction of travel may well lie in retailers’ own hands. Those that offer the services shoppers want to use will prosper – and the time to think through what those services might involve is now. 

Image: Fotolia

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