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UPDATED Coronavirus round-up: Shoppers turn to apps, online retail up 88%, pubs become click and collect hubs, WHSmith and Sainsbury’s join forces, B&M shuts up, wages up-date and more

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We’re reporting on the effect of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic on the way UK shoppers buy – and on how retailers are responding to that changing behaviour. This update comes as 25,150 positive cases have been confirmed by Public Health England as of 9am on March 31 and 1789 people have died.

Shoppers turn to retail apps for buying, inspiration and entertainment

Downloads of retail apps have hit a new high – higher than last year’s Cyber Monday levels – and they are also seeing increased levels of conversion.

Data from retail app platform Poq shows a spike in retail app downloads on the weekend of 27-28 March as more shoppers turned to mobile for their ecommerce fix.

Sessions on these apps are up too, as are conversions – with overall retail conversion on app up 10.56% last week, compared to 3.94% on m-web.

The reason seems to be that apps offer more than just transactions, says Poq. They can be filled with other content, such as tutorials, ‘how to…’ videos, user generated content and more. With many consumers stuck indoors they are looking for inspiration and to show off what they are doing.

Philanthropic brands get more traction online

Retail brands are increasingly seeing their values now being tapped into by shoppers who are posting ‘app stories’ into branded apps, rather than on to more generic sites such as Instagram, believes Poq.

Brands are also hooking people in by using their apps to showcase the more philanthropic work they are doing for charity, the NHS and other key workers, which is driving more users to apps to share their experiences and to be seen to be allied to those brands that are doing good.

This is backed up by YouGov research that finds that brands who have reacted well to the crisis and those which have make mistakes. BrewDog, whose joint founders have not only forgone their salaries this year to protect the workforce, is also making hand sanitiser – its YouGov BrandIndex scores have increased by an impressive 5.8 points since the 16th March.

Deliveroo, M&S and Morrisons have also seen a similar bounce through doing socially beneficial things.

Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct blunder, however, saw its score fall from -3.9 to -39.2, according to BrandIndex.

And this isn’t going to be a short-term phenomenon, believes Poq: it thinks that apps will continue to play this community role and the brands that are seeing to be worthwhile will remain sticky even after the Pandemic passes. Read more here.

Online orders up 88% worldwide: DIY, medicine, olive oil and toilet paper win big

Traffic studies by Mapp show that during March, online orders globally rose by 88%. The big winners were DIY, toys and cosmetics, with average order values up 212%. Read the full story here.

Meanwhile, Adobe has analysed trillions of online transactions across 100 million product SKUs in 18 product categories to create its Digital Economy Index and found that some product categories have taken a bigger share of the digital basket while others have fallen off.

Between 1 January 2020 and 11 March 2020, purchases of several products have seen a significant jump in sales: 807% for hand sanitizers, gloves, masks and anti-bacterial sprays; 217% for over-the-counter drug purchases (cold, flu and pain relievers); 231% for toilet paper; and 87% for canned goods and shelf-stable items. Read more here.

UK data from Criteo’s Shopper Network, which analyses over $900bn of global spending by 2 billion shoppers every year, has revealed that transactions at major UK retailers are at 170% of their seasonal average, with spend per transaction up by 20% (based on 16 million transactions across major UK retailers). 

Online desktop browsing on retail sites has approximately doubled during daytime working hours (8am-5pm), with the evening increase around 20%, while sales of sporting goods are up roughly 10% on last year, with yoga mats ranking as the seventh-quickest growing item in the past 30 days, while sales of free weights increased more than five times in a four day period.

However, the biggest growth in sales has been seen in olive oil, which is up 563.5%, beating the growth in painkillers which is on 322.1%.

Pubs, bars and Centre Court Shopping Centre repurpose for click and collect and groceries

Pubs and bars in the UK could get a shot in the arm, thanks to an initiative designed to let them become click and collect points and to sell basic grocery staples.

A group called StarStock – made up of  Budweiser Brewing Group (the UK arm of AB Inbev), Coca-Cola European Partners, food wholesaler Brakes and campaign group Use Your Local – has now set up a website called that is designed to let locals accept click and collect orders online and sell household staples.

Admiral Taverns said it would make the initiative available to its 1,000 pubs and Greene King, which operates more than 1,000 venues, is also backing the scheme, along with St Austell. Brakes will open up the service to the 15,000 pubs it usually wholesales food to. Venues will be offered a food shop starter kit.

Each transaction made via will accrue a 2% fee to cover operational costs. However, the venture is being run as a non-profit, with any surplus revenue donated directly to the NHS.

Sam Ulph, founder and chief executive of StarStock, says: “We are all aware of what is happening around us, and in these exceptional times this is a vital way for pubs to stay connected, offer an essential service and to secure an income stream during a period when they are unable to trade in their normal way. It will also help to alleviate the pressure on other grocery shops and the supermarkets.”

Meanwhile, Centre Court shopping centre in South London is working alongside Merton-based businesses to deliver food parcels to residents in need across the borough.

‘The little community that could’, launched at the beginning of last week and has served more than 160 residents within the scheme. Teams at centre court have worked alongside, the ’Dons local action group’ to create food parcels and deliver them across Merton.

Food packages consist of five everyday items including milk, bread, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables.

WHSmith teams up with Sainsbury’s to sell groceries to NHS staff in hospital stores

80 NHS-based WHSmiths stores are now stocking Sainsbury’s groceries and household essentials to help hard-pressed NHS shift workers. Some 90 lines – including toilet roll, pasta, long-life milk and ambient foods – will be available and NHS staff will get a 20% discount.

WH Smith has previously worked with Sainsbury’s on a trial basis to enhance its food-to-go proposition in a number of its high street and travel locations. Toby Kier, Managing Director of WHSmith’s travel division, commented: “We are so grateful for the exceptional efforts and commitment of our NHS staff and are delighted to extend our support across WHSmith hospital stores to make their days a little easier.”

B&M Stores and The Perfume Store shut up shops and online

Discount retailer, B&M European Value Retail has temporarily shut 49 UK stores from 1 April.  The company said employees at the affected stores were furloughed and other UK store and distribution workers will be paid 10% more to reflect the additional workload that the government guidelines impose.

Meanwhile, The Perfume Shop has suspended trading in its 231 outlets and is also suspending its online deliveries. The retailer says it is keeping in close contact with its 1,875 colleagues who will, as part of the AS Watson Group, be supported by the Group’s financial package for colleagues.

Retail top brass take pay cuts, Living Wage rises and M&S gives staff a bonus

Directors at Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group have agreed to have their salaries cut to £40,000 while guaranteeing staff salaries at least until the end of April.

Chief financial officer Chris Wootton, whose base salary is £150,000, told The Times that all staff, including those on zero-hours contracts, would be provided for in full until the end of April and the company would review the situation beyond that.

The move comes days after Kurt Gieger boss Neil Clifford announced that he was suspending his salary until stores open again. The company is also distributing 55 £100 giftcards to city hospitals across the UK and Ireland.

BrewDog’s management have also suspended their salaries and have turned their production facilities over to making hand sanitiser.

Retail and other bosses across the US are also suspending their own pay or taking massive pay cuts to help keep businesses alive. A growing list can be found here.

Coincidentally, the National Living Wage in the UK rises today (1 April) to £8.72 an hour.

M&S, meanwhile, has announced that it is awarding staff working in frontline stores and its supply chain an extra 15% on their pay in recognition of their work during the pandemic.

The retailer, which last week temporarily suspended its Clothing & Home operations and closed outlet stores, also said any staff that are furloughed would be on full pay for the time they were off.

Read More

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