EDITORIAL Speed is of the essence

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The coronavirus pandemic has seen a rapid change in how people shop. It has ushered in many of the changes retail has been facing over the past few years at break-neck speed. But the pace of change is likely to continue.

While analysis of consumers suggests that they have rapidly changed their shopping habits to be much more focussed online and that they will stay that way even as lockdown lifts, their newly found online habits are also shifting rapidly.

eBay has already identified how ecommerce shopping trends have themselves rapidly changed over the lockdown, from week one panic buying, through a new work/life balance and sunny weather in weeks two and three, to DIY and peak-cycling in week four.

In the intervening seven weeks that bring us to week 11 of the lockdown, these shifts in behaviour will have gone through even more permutations and evolutions as shoppers adapt.

A lot of this change has been dictated by the almost weekly changes in circumstances and the three-week cycle of government review of the situation, but the switch to e- and mcommerce among shoppers is set to be a fluid one even when this is all over.

And that poses a challenge to all retailers. While much of this week’s news sees retailers starting to adapt to the new digitally-led retail world – and with many shops set to be closed for at least another two weeks – the need to adapt to rapid changes in customer habits has never been more pressing.

This has a profound impact on how retailers market to their customers. For starters, many of their digital customers are now new ones and that means they may fall into demographics less well understood by any given retailer.

Meanwhile, their existing customer base may be have changed how it wants to shop, what it wants to buy and how it wants to engage. In a webinar Internet Retailing hosted with Red Eye this week, it was revealed that many retailers are seeing, for instance, that customers have more time to engage and want a deeper level of engagement on social media while they have time on their hands.

This means adapting the social and marketing strategy to fit both newbies and regulars who want a different experience to what they had before.

However, as things get back to normal, this will all change again – just how remains to be seen – and it is adapting to this sort of change-and-change-again paradigm that is where retailers need to be more agile than ever.

The good news is that the changes that lockdown and the subsequent slow re-opening of the world has brought is nothing that retailers weren’t expecting: nothing new has happened, it has just happened very quickly. But that is a good thing. Now retailers are seeing the need to be digital and omni-channel, the need to be agile and targeted in their engagement and they are starting to see that there are many new ways to sell.

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