Time for the Retail Industry's Comeback

In case you haven’t heard, COVID-19 is bad. It’s bad in a special, complex, interconnected way that makes everything worse, all at once, for everyone, everywhere. Especially retail. 

 

The retail industry is like a long chain, and when one part of the chain is disturbed it sends ripples through the whole thing. So when people all of a sudden can’t go outside, they can’t shop either. When people can’t shop, other people (who can’t go outside either) can’t make money, so they can’t shop either, even if they could go outside. As a result, even the shops that can sell things online start to run out of things to sell because the people that make them can’t go outside. In the end, the companies that sell things online can’t buy the things they use to make goods because manufacturers go out of business, and then there’s nothing left to sell and no one left with money to buy anything.

 

 

Rather than despair and start googling ‘how to live like a badger’, we decided to do something that could at least help a small corner of this rather sticky wicket we humans find ourselves in nowadays. We thought maybe retail employees could work from somewhere safe while shoppers could shop online like usual, but then actually talk to a person if they had a question they couldn’t answer themselves.

Lockdowns have indeed been bad for retail. Way back in April of 2020, a study showed that “Half of the UK’s major non-food retailers will deplete their entire working capital within six months... a 10% reduction in sales would have resulted in more than two-thirds of large UK retailers falling into negative cashflow. However, sales are believed to have dropped as much as 70% since the lockdown was introduced on 23 March, tipping every retailer sampled into immediate negative cashflow.”  I could give you hundreds of similar examples, but you get the gist. COVID is bad.

So what about solutions? Well, government intervention is the big one. As one journal summarized it, ‘to prevent persistent unemployment, service, retail, and even industrial sectors need to be supported.’ But we’re a bit more hands on than that. That report went on to describe how the excess labor supply in the retail sector should be taken into account. And what better way than to put them back into the retail sector doing an online video-powered face-to-face version of what they’ve been trained to do already?

As Tom Elkins, Head of Mobile for Buyer Experience for eBay said in this article, “once people have crossed that threshold of being comfortable buying everything from grocery to dumbbells online or in the app, they won’t go back. This is a behavioural change.”

 

The world is pushing the integration of face-to-face, labour intensive, online shopping interactions into the existing omni-channel model of retail, whether existing retailers like it or not. Online shopping is becoming more human. Start acting like it.

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