Everything has moved online in the pandemic – even stockpiling. When Lockdown 1.0 was introduced at the end of March, physical stores saw a run on toilet paper and pasta (among other things) as shoppers panic-bought.
Fast forward to today and, with a second lockdown potentially on the cards, the panic-buyers are back, only this time they are doing it online as well as in store.
If ever you needed proof that retail has now gone digital, I think we have it.
This wholesale switch to online by shoppers in the past six months has obviously had its impact on retailers, many of whom aren’t agile enough to keep up with these changing mores.
But they are trying. M&S has suffered more than most in the past few months, cutting retail footprint and shedding almost 10,000 jobs. It is struggling to get to grips with the abrupt shift to online, countering more than a century of traditional retail in just a few months.
However, it is making progress. It is now working with state-of-the-art tech companies to up its game – the latest being Quill, which is set to, in its words, “turbocharge” M&S’s online presence by optimising pre-sale content to make it more engaging and alluring.
This sort of step change in how M&S views its online presence is what is needed to propel it back into the major league of retail, albeit a world that is substantially different to the one it planned for this time last year.
Will it be enough though to compete with the retailers and brands that were already well placed to take advantage of this new world order? Boohoo is a case in point. If you ignore for a moment the supply chain issues, it was already on the up before the pandemic, but has managed to successfully grow and flourish during the lockdown – increasing profits by 51% over the past six months.
The key to its success has been to have the agility to switch to the right products at the right time (possibly as a result of its suppliers, but we shall come to that) as well as having a compelling and engaging proposition for its client base.
The chances are it would have been successful anyway: fast fashion was on the up, it was growing online and Boohoo had the right products. Even the horrific revelations that some of its suppliers were treating staff appallingly – which Boohoo acknowledges and is tackling with speed – hasn’t deter many from buying from it.
Others too have learned from the switch to online and have, again in short order, reacted to the changes in both circumstances and shopper behaviour. French lingerie retailer Etam has become one of the first brands to go for shoppable video, making its live video-only Fashion Week show shoppable both while live and post-event.
Pinterest too has rolled out visual search, tying it in with the placement of ads that match searches as it too looks to create a new way for shoppers to shop. Its idea is to try and recreate, through mobile, the inspirational trip along the shopping streets of the world at Christmas time to help inspire shoppers.
Both Pinterest and Etam are looking at how to make online more visual; the component many shoppers have been denied in lockdown and it marks, I believe, a shift in how online retail is going to look for Christmas and into 2021.
These are bold moves and it will be interesting to see how they both impact sales, but it is the kind of shift that retailers are having to make. These are tough and worrying times, but they are forcing many to take the plunge and try something new – perhaps things they have shied away from in the past.