The changing face of retail

The retail landscape is shifting and you must move with the times says Richard Hibbert, KBSA chairman and owner of KSL in Sudbury…

Kbb retailers are facing unprecedented challenges as they adapt their business model in the light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The situation changes daily and whilst the government has launched a range of support packages, how to access them is not always straightforward and there is often a delay from the announcement to when the funds or packages are available.

The KBSA has instigated a regular bulletin for members to guide them to the latest information and advice. We also have an emergency advice line for expert HR and health & safety support from our business partner Croner. We have created a ‘how to’ guide and a series of webinars designed to help businesses adjust to the new way of working.  They cover topics such as; the essentials of homeworking, Furlough and the Job Retention Scheme, along with basics of HR and health & safety.

All of these things should help retailers deal with the immediate business issues but what happens in the medium to longer term, when all this is over, will their retail business ever be the same?

Retailers have had to close their showrooms and they cannot send fitters into homes to install, which restricts their business activities to working on plans and designs.  Modern technology offers opportunities for video conferencing and the sharing of plans and drawings, and many retailers have embraced this.  This technology is widely available, reliable and very affordable, meaning that consumers can also take it up and engage with businesses. Feedback from our members show that this is working well and that they are also discovering some advantages to working in this way.  We have set up a number of ways for members to communicate and share their experiences and there is a feeling on these forums that this is something that will be expanded and developed when this is all over.

This situation has also made retailers consider how they engage with their potential customers.  For every retailer this is different.  Retailers with a high street location, used to lots of passing trade and regular footfall, are having to find new ways to bring in customers and this leads them to review their social media activities.  Enhancing their online presence, provides a means to staying connected.  There is also a possible positive in that with more people at home, they will be thinking about what improvements they want to make in the future and looking for ideas online.  Now is a good time to harness that interest and demonstrate expertise, to bring future customers into the business.

It is early days but there are signs of increased sales of home interest magazines, again another platform for retailers to showcase their expertise.  Providing expert comment on case studies can boost a retailer’s profile.  There are also likely to be increased opportunities for retailers to contribute to digital platforms.

Whether there will be a surge in sales when this is all over remains to be seen.  On the one hand, house sales have come to a complete stop and these will all be re-started at some point, this could create an upsurge in demand.  On the other hand, no one knows how strong or fragile the economy will be at this point.

The only thing we do know is that this crisis will pass, and whilst no one can predict the future we hope retailers will come through this challenging time stronger than ever.

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