Commentary

OPINION Responding responsibly to COVID-19: how agile omnichannel is helping brands worldwide minimise the impact

Romulus Grigoras, CEO of OneStock looks at how retailers can replicate strategies used in different countries – not only to operate effectively and safely during the current lockdown but be ready for a post-crisis bounce back.

 

  1. Be upfront and communicate with customers clearly

A lockdown doesn’t have to mean pressing the pause button on essential ecommerce. Shoppers are moving their spending online, most notably for groceries, and UK retailers are working to meet extraordinary demand. Good communication is critical and Pets at Home excels at this with a well-designed homepage that clearly explains what customers should expect.

  1. Adjust stock on every sales channel

Ensuring store and wholesale stock is available for sale on online channels should be a priority. Using a stock unification tool which gives a unified view on inventory is the easiest way to do this and will allow retailers to switch back later without any adverse effects.

As people come to terms with the day-to-day reality of being at home 24/7, brands need to adapt their available range to meet urgent consumer requirements. This means making sure they can offer the most sought-after products and maintain a good availability rate and depth of stock. French retailer Orchestra does this well. A specialist in children’s goods, its website currently focuses on offering a limited range of essentials such as toiletries, nappies and baby clothing.

  1. Deploy in-store sales staff to support online operations

Although most physical outlets are now closed to customers, so long as employees respect all Covid-19 protection measure, shipping packages to online customers directly from stores will allow retailers to take advantage of in-store stock and optimise the productivity of sales teams. It will also take the pressure off warehouse staff and help maintain a smooth delivery service to customers.

In France, national garden centre chain Truffaut is using its largest stores to complement deliveries from distribution hubs to manage pet food orders, while Orchestra is processing orders from 30 of its 300 stores, offering home delivery for purchases over €20 (£18). This approach is proving effective. By putting in place a small team of staff dedicated solely to processing online purchases, they are seeing a significant impact on turnover while also being able to keep store staff employed.

 

  1. Deliver responsibly

An agile approach to supply chain logistics is key, so work with carriers that continue to provide a service and adjust delivery time guarantees as necessary. For example, only offer standard delivery if your express logistics operator isn’t available or opt for delivery methods that avoid human-to-human contact such as parcel lockers.

Showing solidarity with your staff and carriers and minimising the risk of exposure to the virus is paramount. One way to do this, especially for those items considered non-essential, is by offering a deferred delivery. With this approach, customers can purchase a product online, the item is put aside and shipping is guaranteed at the end of lockdown.

US-based sustainable fashion brand Reformation is leaving its website open to accept orders, on the understanding that garments will be reserved while delivery is delayed. In the meantime, the company is using its factory to make masks for essential workers.

  1. Think beyond

By looking at what our global colleagues are doing we can learn ways to ensure the survival of the retail industry in our own countries. Perhaps the most impressive example is JD.com. In contrast to its competitors and stock markets around the world, the Chinese retail giant did not appear to be significantly impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak thanks to its flexible and resilient supply chain. By owning and controlling its own warehouses, stocks, logistics and carriers it was able continue to operate efficiently during the country’s period of confinement.

However dire the current situation may seem, we can see too from China’s experience that it is not going to last forever. Being prepared for life post Covid-19 is crucial. The reality is that retailers are all going to have vast quantities of unsold stock and it may take time for people to start returning to stores.

Retailers that have the most mature and agile omnichannel infrastructure and culture will be in the strongest position to survive long term.