2020 has been a year for change, and as we look back at the retail sector, it is clear there has been a dramatic shift in how the industry operates. What we were expecting to happen over a number of years – a move towards online and away from the high-street – has occurred rapidly over the course of 2020.
At the start of 2020 efficiency and customer experience were essential long-term strategies in order for businesses to have a competitive advantage and to continue adapting to changing times. But when the pandemic hit, the level to which it spread set the industry on a course for rapid digital change, which was unprecedented and reinforced the importance of these strategies for numerous other reasons.
Through the growing use of ecommerce, shifting consumer behaviour and the accelerated decline of the high-street, the retail industry has undergone major transformations this year. It is now more vital than ever for companies to be equipped with the right technology to adapt to the changes that have occurred, so they will be able to effectively respond to any unexpected developments heading into 2021.
One factor that impacted the industry in 2019 was Brexit. The move away from the EU and the uncertainty that this caused meant retail spending declined, resulting in a massive business restructuring across the industry. The impact of which was something that retailers thought they would have to contend with during 2020.
News articles in early 2020 discussed how the previous Christmas period had seen the lowest rate of growth in sales since 2015 and yet more high-street shops were closing, resulting in job losses. There were even predictions that Debenhams, which was undergoing a rescue restructure at the time, was facing the possibility that it would have to close 50 stores by the end of 2021. But the significant and unexpected impact from coronavirus actually presented bigger devastation resulting in retail giants such as Debenhams and Arcadia going into administration.
The high-street has also suffered from the increase of people staying at home. A ParcelHero report predicts that online festive shopping in 2020 will overtake high-street shopping, with £39.4 billion being spent online, while £39.1 billion will be spent in stores. This is a considerable change compared to last Christmas, where £25.4 billion was spent online, compared to £53.1 billion in stores. This places an inevitable strain on retailers to ensure that their courier and home delivery services can cope with the demand.
This change in consumer behaviour has caused the high-street to innovate in order to keep up with the demand. There have been instances where shops have gone to the ‘dark’ side, and turned their retail space into local distribution centres, showing just how significant this requirement has become and how companies need to consider efficient delivery methods to keep up with the growing demand.
In order to maintain business continuity, it is clear that organisations will need to adopt an online-first approach to retail. This involves retailers connecting all parts of the end-to-end supply chain through technology and automation, which will boost the ecommerce experience and ensure brand loyalty. Putting an automated software solution in place that enhances operational efficiencies across all delivery channels will mean that a courier service doesn’t necessarily need to hire so many new drivers and it will also help to improve the delivery experience for customers, which is essential as we move into the competitive ecommerce future.
A solution with integrated telematics and mobile data communications will provide enhanced accuracy across more deliveries and a greater visibility for both the consumer and fleet manager along all supply lines. Having further information that allows drivers to add or amend jobs and automatically reroute to avoid disruption will ensure drivers are productive and safe in their deliveries.
With consumers demanding faster deliveries at more convenient times, companies need to consider having an accurate process, in order to enhance customer loyalty and brand experience. A system that provides accurate ETA’s, route optimisation and considers the number of parcels that a driver can deliver will enable this. By allowing consumers to see in real-time precisely where a vehicle is and how long it will be until they receive their delivery will further reduce costly failed deliveries, enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, while providing a dependable online service experience.
This year has not been easy, and the retail sector has suffered. However, companies that choose to embrace the change and implement solutions that increase efficiency and promote online shopping, will be the ones that come out on top.