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EDITORIAL How multichannel capability helped Wickes, Toolstation, JD Sports, ScS and Halfords handle Covid-19

In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter we’re reporting as retailers Wickes and Toolstation, JD Sports, ScS and Halfords report on sales that are much better than might have been expected at the beginning of this year’s Covid-19 pandemic. That sales have either held up or risen strongly at all of these businesses is thanks to the work they had already put in on developing resilient multichannel businesses. That hasn’t protected them entirely, since costs and the loss of stores has inevitably hit profits to a greater or lesser extent. These retailers’ accounts are reflected in the latest retail sales figures for August. The latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor shows online sales still growing fast in August – while in-store sales continued to fall, and overall sales stayed lower than pre-Covid levels. 

But could the shape of retail be about to change as workers return to their offices? There’s a hint of that starting to happen in the latest Springboard footfall figures, which cover the first week in September – the week later than the August retail sales figures. Visitor numbers appear to be returning to high streets, especially in Greater London, but falling away in locations such as retail parks.

With that comes a warning from Openpay, which has questioned 2,000 people to find that a quarter say they will stop buying online so much once they’re back in the office, thanks both to office rules and the hassle of carrying bulky items home. It’s by no means certain that many people are now heading back to offices full-time, especially since it’s still important to remain socially distanced, on public transport and in the office itself. Even so, this story underlines the multichannel maxim that shoppers want to buy in the way that’s most convenient to them. When they’re in the office it may be easier to go to a shop, but when they are at home, online may remain most important. Enabling shoppers to choose between the two is key for many multichannel businesses. Grosvenor Britain & Ireland is recognising that as it uses NearSt to help its retail tenants get the products that are on their shelves found by local shoppers searching for items nearby. 

Store-only Primark makes a contribution to this story by showing how it sees its shoppers changing the way they buy. Its city centre stores are now faring markedly less well than those in town centres and on retail parks, and it says its customers are now working from home more and are less likely either to be commuting or to be tourists. 

In today’s guest comment, Andy Halliwell of Publicis Sapient considers how stores might adapt to a post-Covid world. 

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