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EDITORIAL From robotic shops to warehouse shortages: what happens when retail shifts further online

Retailers are investing to serve shoppers as they shift online. Image: Gorlov-KV/Shutterstock

Almost half of non-food retail sales were online in 2021, according to the latest BRC/KPMG retail sales figures. That’s come as retailers have invested in their online capabilities – and is likely to spur more investment in the year ahead. Very, which today reports Christmas trading figures, shows the effect of automation on its business

Ecommerce and multichannel businesses have invested so heavily in logistics and warehousing land to serve the growing number of online shoppers that the UK now has less industrial space available than it’s ever had, according to a new report from commercial property agent Colliers. 

One retailer has just opened a new shop in which retail is entirely online. has opened its first European shop – an Ochama robotic collection shop – from which shoppers can collect goods they ordered online using robots – and without meeting a single sales assistant in the Netherlands.

Shoe Zone says that investment in digital has helped it to grow over its latest financial year, one in which in-store sales have fallen and online has grown by 58%. Nonetheless, it says shops are still critical to its success – partly because of their role in returns. 

FatFace says that its investment in digital – and its partnership with third-party retailers – has helped it to report positive growth in the first half of its financial year, and over the Christmas period.

Online is now so central to the way shoppers now want to buy that Aldi’s 2020 investment in click and collect and Deliveroo delivery could be putting it at a disadvantage because it remains relatively limited compared to its rivals, one analyst has suggested. And Games Workshop plans to invest  £6m in its online web platform after a half-year in which its online sales fell by 10%. 

The latest in our Predictions 2022 series focuses on strategy and innovation. Industry insiders suggest that brands should be thinking about strategies for 2022 from selling direct to consumers to perfecting their omnichannel processes.

In today’s guest comment, Joris Kroese of Hatch argues that a social commerce strategy should be top of 2022 wish lists. 

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