Retail was one of the hardest-hit industries during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s true that travel and airlines are suffering more, but when the first lockdowns spread from nation to nation, all non-essential stores had to close. Retailers that depended on revenue only from physical stores suddenly found they had no income at all.
But what will happen next for retail brands? It’s difficult to make concrete predictions because the virus is still out there and spreading. Some countries are recovering well, but it looks like some are about to hit a second wave, potentially leading to further lockdowns. In the US, we can see that retail is still disrupted although it looks unlikely that there will be a further national lockdown because of the economic disruption it caused earlier in 2020.
Although the outlook is uncertain, retail leaders need to think about the most likely path their business may take and how to build flexibility so changes can be applied quickly. The future of retail is going to be more complex than just providing some hand sanitizer at the store entrance.
The Harvard Business Review recently listed a few key areas to think about for 2021 and beyond, including:
These are all interesting points, but they are generally focused on the mid-term - once a recovery is well underway. I would suggest a couple of other areas that retail brands need to focus on in the immediate future:
At the heart of all these measures will be the direct interaction between the retail brand and its customers. Your customer service strategy will need to evolve into 2021 so it can manage a greater number of customer interactions with increased resilience and the ability to continue even in adverse business conditions.
This requires a strong focus on customer service agents working from home, improved automation to help customers 24/7, improved self-service so customers asking Google for help find useful results. How retail companies evolve from this crisis will be largely driven by their ability to adapt and build closer relationships with customers - a robust customer service strategy will be the key to this.