Welcome to a new retail world

The entire retail landscape has, without doubt, been irrevocably changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced even the most IT illiterate into using their phone more than ever.

During the height of the lockdown, I was definitely a regular customer at Screwfix. If you need anything for yoru DIY, it’s simply a matter of finding it on their site, placing the order and driving the very short distance to one of their many outlets. With the stores all changing to “collection only”, there was no way of popping into a store and ordering from the in-store catalogue. So I knew that every customer there had ordered via their phone or laptop. The wide slice of society – from builders to home-owners repairing leaks and painting fences – were there. The young and the old – all now familiar with ordering from home and ordering via their smartphone.

Despite government efforts, the high street is changing quickly. John Lewis, which is a major UK department store, has seen their fortunes change and they’re closing big and fairly new stores like the one at Grand Central in Birmingham. Meanwhile, Boots the Chemist are doing the same. We’ve seen thousands of jobs lost as our shopping habits have quickly shifted. Indeed, John Lewis now stated that some 70% of their sales will be over the internet – a massive shift in behaviour.

Thousands more jobs are now at risk. In addition to Boots and John Lewis, Rolls Royce also started to shed staff – more than 10,000 jobs in total just this week. Meanwhile, the Chancellor has announced a £30bn spending stimulus to try and protect companies from the coronavirus impact. Burger King are to close 10% of their branches, Frankie and Benny’s will be closing restaurants and Travis Perkins is also to cut jobs. Keeping jobs and keeping businesses alive is critical. However, it’s not necessarily about getting that pre-COVID economy “back on its feet”. The car making, aviation and hospitality sectors have taken a massive hit and they may not ever see those previous incomes return.

Millions and millions of workers were covered by the furlough scheme here in the UK, but as the weeks go by and the furlough schemes start to see less and less contributions from the government, employers are having to make hard decisions about just how many staff to keep on. It’s all about adapting to the “new normal” and trying to appeal to customers, ensuring that you have a clean and safe environment to shop in. It’s all about keeping the money coming in the door.

The same is happening in other industries, with pubs and casinos struggling to convince guests that their establishments are “germ free”. Bars and the classic slots can be touched many thousands of times per day, so there’s moves to increase table service and a cashless, contactless payment system that means you’re touching the equipment as little as possible. Indeed, we’ve seen the existing contactless systems being promoted heavily as a way of paying. Some outlets are only accepting this payment method, with cash becoming quite an “old school” way of doing it.

In Las Vegas a system has been in development for some years to allow players on the infamous strip to have a Bluetooth-connected digital wallet. This can be loaded up with funds and can have winnings placed onto it too. It’s more secure than carrying cash around and it’s a lot more hygenic. Right now there’s a big demand for solutions like this as venues look to prove that they’re COVID-safe.

Meanwhile, apps and mobile websites have increased in popularity with many more downloads and accounts. There’s more of a willingness to buy online, with quick delivery and free returns boosting the confidence of home shoppers.