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EDITORIAL From live events to autonomous shops: reconsidering the store and online balance post-Covid

HMV started serving shoppers 100 years ago – today it's serving them online and across channels. Image courtesy of HMV

HMV started serving shoppers 100 years ago – today it's serving them online and across channels. Image courtesy of HMV

In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter we’re reporting as English retailers are able to drop legal restrictions in store after a year in which more sales have taken place online. Despite this, many are keeping them, and others believe that in-store shopping will never recover to pre-pandemic levels. Yesterday’s UK footfall was 12.7% up on last week – but 24.9% down on the same time in pre-pandemic 2019.

From there, we’re considering whether the shift online that we’ve seen during the pandemic will be a permanent feature, or if shoppers and retailers are set to go back to the pre-pandemic normal, now that legal restrictions on shopping in-store have been removed. 

We round up what we know so far about how the dropping of coronavirus restrictions this week is working in practice for retailers. And we hear from retailers how important stores are to their multichannel businesses. HMV is marking its centenary today with a store opening, plans for 10 more, and the return of live events – including a free performance by Ed Sheeran. 

The Works says that stores are the “lifeblood” of its stores, as it releases full-year results today, but it also says that it’s going to be investing more online and less in new stores in future. Its online business more than doubled in size over the year and has already repaid the extra investment in capacity. Nonetheless, 80% of sales over this year took place through its stores, and these remain a key way of reaching shoppers. 

Convenience and safety have been a driver over the last year. We report on how one-hour click and collect, introduced by Pets at Home during the pandemic in order to give a more convenient and safe service to shoppers now accounts 20% of its online sales, suggesting that many shoppers see stores as playing a useful role in playing online. 

Supermarket Morrisons is now experimenting with autonomous till-free stores, with staff now able to buy from a pilot store in its head office. It may well find that autonomous stores become more popular post-Covid. Now that shoppers are used the idea of contactless payment, will they be more likely to use a contactless store?

Pureplay Virgin Wines, meanwhile says in a trading update today that it is confident that shoppers will still continue to buy from it online and via subscription post-Covid. Certainly, for the moment, it does seem likely that shoppers will be buying online more than they did before the pandemic – and possibly more than they are doing right now. 

Today we also report as Ocado says it’s had a second fire in a fulfilment centre. And in today’s guest comment, Marc Pettican of Barclaycard Payments considers why smoothing the checkout experience should now be a priority for retailers who moved online during the pandemic. 

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