This year marks my 10th year working in the retail industry. I planned to put my thoughts in a blog post later on this year that both describes my insights and my vision for the future of retail and e-commerce, however, given the current circumstances with COVID-19, I believe now is the right time as the whole world is about to change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered panic and disruption in every corner of the globe. The retail industry, specifically fashion, has been hit particularly hard.
Here's a quick overview on some issues that have risen from the crisis which could lead to store closures or worse; being put through administration:
- Furloughed Staff - Staff from stores, warehouses and even head office staff have been furloughed across the world. These are the very people that the retail industry relies upon, which is why we've seen it being ground to a halt.
- Store Closures - Closed stores means no action in the real world.
- Warehouse Closures - Closed warehouses means no incoming inventory, no supply for stores and no action for the digital world.
- Excess Inventory - This is probably one of the most overlooked problems. The fashion calender works in seasons, which means we'll be stuck a season behind in terms of inventory — and, they'll be a lot of it.
Because retailers won't have sold anything, they'll struggle with getting next seasons products produced and financed. How will it be gotten rid of? Perhaps heavily discounted, fed back into a circular supply chain to reuse materials at the manufacturers or even donated.
- Major Behaviour Changes - Customers that previously relied on retail locations to make purchases are now forced to adopt e-commerce. Will they realise the convenience and continue to prioritise e-commerce going forward?
As stores begin to open up, we not only have the challenge of adapting to government guidelines, we also have to start making permanent changes to the retail store offering going forward to prevent such damage again and, ultimately, improve the customer experience.
Why? Well, up until now the retail store offering has yet to go further than a silo-ed sales channel reliant upon footfall, which has led to retail operations becoming defunct during disasters. Since I started working in retail, every year I've noticed a decline in footfall — more so in the last five years, it's probably not a great idea to to continue without changing.
Time to cue a famous quote which may or may not have been said by Albert Einstein:
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."
Anyway, instead, a multi-purpose location may be an appropriate solution to diversify retail spaces as it not only helps to fully realise the power of omnichannel but it allows the customer to experience the brand in such a powerful way!
Let's start part 1 of this mini series of posts with the most obvious use case:
E-Commerce Fulfilment Destination.
A full disclaimer: we're bias. However, it seems to be a very logical solution. Think of all the customers that have been put through a sub-par experience from conventional carriers — let's face it, we've all gone through the motions at some point!
How does this experience come to fruition, you ask? Firstly, conventional carriers work on density per trip (fill a van up to the brim — can sometimes be 100+ orders per day) and the best way to increase the density is to go to a massive warehouse in the middle of nowhere to get as many orders as possible ready to be dispatched the following day or even a couple of days later. This allows the opportunity to preplan routes to hit cost efficiency targets.
Now, imagine a van with 100+ orders, each with specified time slots... Impossible, I know! So instead, the customer has to put up with a time dictated by the carrier, which is where it starts to get ugly with a whole set of horror stories with missed deliveries, orders dumped on the roadside and so on.
Instead, how about breaking that workload up to give your customers a better and more personalised experience? For example, a customer in Cambridge orders a pair of shoes from your site. Those same shoes within the order are also stocked within the Cambridge stores' inventory.
This is where the experience starts to get really sexy.
Now, instead of having to fill a van up to ensure the long distance is paid for by the quantity, you're able to cut that journey right down to under 10 miles AND offer the customer time slots on the SAME DAY... even in the same fricking hour!!! You can now operate in smaller manageable batches, which gives you both the speed and flexibility to serve your customers' demands in every one of your retail locations.
Delivery is the last touch point retailers have with customers, why not make it extra special!?
Imagine having this solution in place before the COVID-19 crisis, you'd still be able to move stock from local stores without having to furlough the entire store team AND you'd have less inventory to try and move after lock-down restrictions are lifted.
But since this is all in hindsight, I'll let you off. But how about thinking ahead and adapting your omnichannel/e-commerce delivery strategy to leverage retail locations too. Do it for your customers.
See you next time, my friend.