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EDITORIAL How retailers are rethinking the way they sell in the light of Covid-19

Image: Adobe Stock

Image: Adobe Stock

In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter we’re reporting as retailers consider their best course of action in the midst of an unprecedented public health emergency. George Weston, chief executive of Primark owner Associated British Foods, has spoken powerfully today on the importance of keeping its clothing shops shut until Covid-19 is suppressed. After that, he says, it will be necessary to keep shops safe, even if that means reducing visitor numbers. Profits, he says, can be rebuilt, but people cannot be replaced. 

Lifestyle and fashion brand Joules has prioritised safety and social distancing at its distribution centre. That’s meant it needs to manage customer demand that’s currently higher than it had expected at the time of lockdown. Both retailers are expressing a principled choice to to prioritise safety ahead of profits. In doing so they’re following a path already laid out by Next and Dunelm, which both closed their distribution centres – and online websites – until they could be sure that staff could work safely. 

These are steps that the John Lewis Partnership is also taking. The retailer’s chairman Sharon White laid out its worst case scenario planning today, setting out how rising sales at John Lewis are unlikely to compensate for the closure of its stores. Waitrose sales, too, are likely to be down, while costs will be up as it has expanded its online delivery business fast. This, however, stands it in good stead for the end of its Ocado partnership in September. That’s one way reacting to the pandemic is likely change its business long-term. The business will also respond by bringing forward its retail review, which will take into account the way that shopper behaviour is changing during the pandemic. Ecommerce and sustainability are both likely to come centre stage at this business in the future. 

We continue to follow the way that customers are changing their buying behaviour, and how retailers are responding to that in our rolling coronavirus round-up. And we report as store visits show a record decline in the BRC-ShopperTrak Footfall Monitor.  

In today’s guest comment, Guy Elliott of Publicis Sapient sets out four key components that retailers need to address in order to thrive despite coronavirus. 

Image: Adobe Stock

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