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EDITORIAL How Top500 retailers continue to innovate in response to a year of uncertainty

This is the last InternetRetailing newsletter of a year that opens as it began – with uncertainty. At the time of writing, we still do not know whether there will be a trade deal with Europe at the end of the Brexit transition period. Covid-19 has increased that uncertainty, making this a turbulent and anxious year for many. The two factors have combined to result in delays at ports that mean it is uncertain whether goods posted or shipped to or from the European Union will arrive at their destination before January 1 – and what customs duties may be levied if not. 

DFS reflects that uncertainty in an update today that shows its deliveries have been affected as a result of congestion in ports and shortages of raw materials. Nonetheless it’s reflecting on a half year in which it’s seen strong online sales – digital will continue to be at the centre of its strategy in future – and it is expecting an upturn in its full-year profits as more people have bought furniture and other homewares.

It’s been a year that has changed the way that many shoppers buy. We report as John Lewis has seen its customers shift their buying much further online than previously –  buying gifts, taking part in virtual interior design appointments, and browsing for new baby items have all seen an uplift. In today’s guest comment, Romany Simpson of 360 OM considers how retailers can turn to social in order to connect with their customers long-term. 

Shoppers now want to buy in more Covid-secure ways. We report as Marks & Spencer has used digital to make the checkout mobile as it looks to reduce queues – and crowds – in its stores at the busiest time of its year.

The year has seen huge retailers, from Debenhams and the Arcadia Group to members of the Edinburgh Woollen Mills Group, go into administration. This week there’s news that Arcadia’s Evans brand will continue to trade online after being bought by the Australasian multichannel City Chic Collective. 

And we continue to trace the shape of the 2020 peak shopping season, one that has been marked by many different uncertainties – from delays in shipping and deliveries to sudden changes in whether or not shops can open to trade at all, pushing demand online once more. 

Above all in this very uncertain year, retailers have constantly shown how adaptable they are, deploying the digital tools and multichannel strategies that have become mainstream in recent decades in order to provide their customers with more flexible, convenient and expanded services. The capacity to innovate via digital will be needed now more than ever as retailers are likely to continue to trade in uncertain times for the foreseeable future, and as shoppers are likely to do more and more of their shopping online at the same time. 

We wish you a peaceful and relaxing Christmas, and a happy New Year. We’ll return with the InternetRetailing newsletter on January 5 – when we expect a little more certainty on how traders will be able to sell to and from Europe in 2021. 

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