Top500 retailers prepare for store reopenings – but will shoppers prefer to buy in-store or stay online? 

Shoppers appear keen to return in-store but still nervous about crowds. Image: Shutterstock

Shoppers appear keen to return in-store but still nervous about crowds. Image: Shutterstock

In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter, we’re reporting as retailers prepare to test how much shoppers want to return to stores when they reopen from lockdown 3.0 next week – and whether they they will then return to shopping online after reopening. 

Multichannel retailers including John Lewis and Ikea are finalising their reopening plans, with the emphasis firmly on the services that work best in stores – such as trying on clothing, personal styling and room design advice – and on enabling shoppers to use their stores to collect products ordered online. They do so amid concerns that shoppers – many of whom are still working from home – will want to carry on ordering online, if they have the cash or the appetite to buy at all. 

The investors who are today set to buy Peacocks out of administration are banking on a healthy appetite to buy in-store as well as online. They expect to reopen as many as 200 shops as early as next week. 

Fashion-to-homewares retailer Next says that the strength of its online sales helped it to limit its full-year sales decline to 17% while its shops were closed for months at a time in its latest financial year. Despite store reopenings, it still expects to see its customers move from store to online buying. 

And in today’s guest comment, Chris Moss of Bearing Point says that ultra-fast grocery delivery will be ready to accelerate post-lockdown, suggesting that fast delivery can do away with the need to visit a shop at all. 

But while Boots says it benefited from the strength of existing online infrastructure during lockdown, with ecommerce sales more than doubling, it seems to have missed out on the in-store sales that it suggests went to supermarkets instead. That could be either because shoppers ordered as much as they could from one retailer when shopping online, or because shoppers who did still want to buy in-store may have limited the number of shops that they visited during lockdown.

Meanwhile, supermarket Tesco is looking for opportunities in the meal box market. It’s trialling sales of Tesco Finest restaurant collection boxes to customers who want to mark special occasions and would normally have gone to a restaurant. 

The strength of a multichannel strategy has always been to enable shoppers to buy in the way that is most convenient for them at any given moment. The same customers can find it more convenient to buy in-store at one moment, but at another very much more convenient to buy online. What’s likely to remain the case is that customers change their minds and buy in different ways that depend on their circumstances at any given moment. The question that remains open is how many sales points retailers can profitably provide to those customers. 

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