Between Brexit and severe weather conditions, 2020 already started as a turbulent year for retailers – from footfall to deliveries. On top of this, the rapid spread of Coronavirus created seismic waves in the stock market not felt since the infamous week on Wall Street in 2008 and global trade came to an alarming slowdown. 

But what has this meant for retailers? Is it just the high street that stands to suffer or are eCommerce retailers feeling the pinch of current demands? It’s important for retailers to be wise to the facts but distance themselves from unsafe or ethical practices in light of recent events. 

Here’s the lowdown on the story so far.

The eCommerce Boom

As cases have become confirmed in countries all over the world, it appears that “self-isolation” has resulted in a boom for online stores. With people avoiding public spaces, the ability to order and receive to and from your own home has become the ideal – which is good news for online traders. 

Grocery stores are doing all they can to ensure that operations continue as smoothly as possible such as restricted purchases and reserved shopping hours for the eldery. They are also expanding “click and collect” services as a way to utilise online ordering but without the need for home deliveries. While eCommerce has transformed the way retailers in multiple sectors do business – it appears the demand for eGroceries has shone a light on a lagging industry.

A decade ago, it was thought that 40% of the grocery market would have moved online by 2025. Last month, however, one industry body revised this figure downwards to just 7.7% by 2024. But why is this?

Ciaran Bollard, CEO at Kooomo, reckons that unprecedented circumstances could mean much more forward thinking in terms of the online supermarket; 

I think global conditions like severe weather and the huge impact of coronavirus on the world is certainly fuelling conversations and accelerating the desire to innovate and start delivering solutions for eGrocery. We can all see the incredible queue that are happening outside the big 4 grocery retailers. So I believe we will see real change happening here in 2020 particularly across the discount grocery retailers. 

This already appears to be evident as Grocers such as Ocado report massive jumps in their online orders as Covid-19 becomes more widespread.

It’s no secret that China has a large share in the world’s manufacturing pool – in fact, they are responsible for a third of global manufacturing and the world’s largest exporter. Therefore the knock on effect from the halt in manufacturing and exporting is set to be one felt worldwide as whole products or product parts become more scarce in supply. 

Amazon has revealed it’s out of stock on household items and deliveries are delayed due to the Coronavirus demand – even for their Amazon Prime customers who are accustomed to a delivery period of 1-2 days

Almost a quarter of British retailers are reporting severe disruption to their supply of goods. With that said, only 7% of retailers have the flexibility to switch their suppliers. So what can retailers do in the wake of a short supply chain? Ciaran Bollard believes that those who have already shifted to omnichannel online platforms will be at an advantage. 

“The retailers that have invested in Omnichannel and have stock in-store is also available online will help ease the impact of no footfall on the street. I know some retailers are considering resupplying the main warehouse with shop stock to help fulfil demand.”

As the days unfold and businesses learn from their counterparts in other countries, they appear to be taking the precautionary measures necessary to delay shortages – and where production is local, Neilsen predicts that replenishment will likely turn around in as little as 3-7 days. 
Bricks & Mortar
Panic buying has initially driven consumers in store to stock up on essentials, but as lockdowns and social distancing comes into effect, we will be seeing less and less footfall on the high street. A quarter of people are already avoiding shopping centres and have opted to move to online shopping in order to remain isolated. 

Apple, Nike and Urban Outfitters are three such big name retailers who this week have announced their temporary closure of stores, with other retailers set to follow suit in the coming days. 

Bricks and Mortar stores supply a certain level of customer experience and social gratification that have now been, in a sense, outlawed due to social distancing. The focus now moves to their online store and managing these massive demands. Ciaran Bollard has gone on to advise on how best to retain customer satisfaction in these problematic times;

Where the supply chain is affected for home deliveries it’s really important to change the messaging on your online store to notify customers of any delays. Customers are willing to have a longer delivery window to avoid going to stores, so make sure communication is transparent and as accurate as possible.

 But it is very important to keep your communications with customers timely and up to date as the situation changes. So updating your delivery and express delivery timings on your online store is crucial to avoid disappointment. This will help alleviate fears and build trust in a difficult time where we are in uncharted waters.
No consumer is expecting regular service in light of recent events – but if you can communicate clearly, accurately and fairly you are less likely to lose out on consumers to other brands who are before you in the replenishment queue.
Overcoming Covid 19

As customer experience becomes a concern for retailers both on and offline, Covid-19 has encouraged certain businesses to take matters into their own hands and come up with innovative ways to reach their audiences.

Take Georgio Armani for example. As the situation has grown more serious in Italy, Milan fashion week was one of numerous events that had to be cancelled amid safety concerns. As a way around this, Armani proceeded to host the runway show in an empty warehouse – live streamed for interested buyers.

Forbes discusses the need for retailers to adapt their customer experience virtually, and discusses the uptake of “virtual demonstrations”. Tech companies are implementing more support for “remote working” – workplace software companies like Zoom, Microsoft, and Google have even offering their software for free and taken measures to ensure they can meet the growing demand for remote working.

In terms of supply, some countries have already begun self-sustaining due to the trade climate in China. With this in mind, eCommerce has effectively prepared supply chains in certain countries, such as the U.S., that can better deal with coronavirus.

The situation with Coronavirus is changing on a daily basis with unprecedented circumstances for both retailers and consumers alike. In order for retailers to increase their chances of survival they will need to make sure they are completely transparent when communicating their situations to customers, supplement warehouse stock with in store stock where possible and facilitate the safest possible conditions for staff to carry out their daily responsibilities. Small changes are having a significant effect – and eCommerce is taking the reins in ensuring safe and sustainable trade.