The small changes that could make a big difference

Firstly, its announcement came on a Saturday when most people were doing something else and leaving owners and directors with little time to come up with or reactivate a lock down plan they thought had passed its use-by date.
Also the terms of this lockdown differ from the previous national version which leaves some opportunity for skillful retailers to adapt and survive the immediate future in the hope that this one does last just four weeks. 
The “non-essential” stores that are being ordered to close include:

  • Clothing and Footwear stores
  • Electronics stores
  • Vehicle showrooms
  • Travel agents
  • Betting shops
  • Auction houses
  • Tailors
  • Car washes
  • Tobacconists
  • Vape shops

The British Retail Consortium estimates that stores will see approximately £2 billion in lost sales every week they remain closed so any income will be welcomed in this period.  
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) was due to expire on October 31st but has now been extended to March 2021 at least. It will continue to pay 80% of furloughed staff wages up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. 
Crucially, employees made redundant after September 23rd can be rehired and furloughed by their employer as long as they were on the payroll on or before October 30th.
Businesses can also claim other financial support if applicable including grants of up to £3,000 for the month they’re closed. 

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” Sun Tzu

In a much misused and mistranslated phrase, Sun Tzu sumarises the situation facing many retailers. 
Their carefully planned and Covid secured stores are now to be closed if they are classed as non-essential.   
So should they just pull down the shutters and wait until the all clear sounds hopefully in time for a busy Christmas season? 
No – there are several changes and adaptations they can  make to their businesses to keep trading during the window and increase their viability and appeal as they move into the exciting world of omnichannel retailing.

Click and Collect
Some larger retail outlets have adapted the click and collect model seamlessly into their businesses before lockdown but this provides a great opportunity to if not pivot entirely to the model, then at least dip a toe into the water. 
For retailers with a physical outlet, it’s imperative that it is used, especially if it’s still being rented and utility bills being paid on it so it can function in a different way than a regular shop. 
It can be repurposed into an order fulfilment hub so instead of allowing customers in to browse and purchase, they will attend purely for the purpose of collecting the order they have already completed with a minimum of fuss. 
Under the terms of the latest lockdown, all non-essential shops can offer either deliveries or click and collect options, so it is a way to keep staff employed and the lights on while continuing to serve customers.

Home deliveries
Delivery options are also a great way of repurposing existing staff so they don’t need to be furloughed or let go. 
Some customers will understandably be nervous about venturing out to a store, regardless of all the precautions you’ve been taking so you might have to go to them. 
Staff can deliver the goods themselves or you can quickly incorporate a logistics chain which could involve quality control, order fulfilment, packing, loading, customer service, aftercare and several other new jobs they can do that would be different from their previous employment duties. 
For some products such as alcohol, the new rules mean that it can only be sold via delivery as long as it is pre-ordered online or via phone or post.  
Pre-ordered drinks can be sold to or collected by a customer provided the purchaser does not enter inside the premises to do so.

Shop window advertising/displays
While some businesses might be tempted to pull down their shutters for a month – if you have public-facing display space then think again. 
It’s the perfect product display space and can be a powerful visual reminder and prompt to customers to purchase your goods online.  One of the disadvantages of the internet is that products are primarily displayed as a two-dimensional picture, being able to have it on show will be an advantage. 
We’re also approaching the Christmas season which a lot of potential customers will be looking forward to even more as a distraction from the upheaval of the year. 
A lot of retailers are using the space to create Christmas themed promotions both to promote the business and generally cheer customers up.  While not every business can be like Fenwicks in Newcastle or Hamleys in London, they can brighten up their own high street.

Subscription Service
Another shift in customer behaviour brought about by enforced home working and lockdown is an increased understanding and awareness of how much of a product they consume on a regular basis.  
When you’re able to pop out to the shops to replenish supplies, it’s easy to forget or just not realise how much coffee, food or toiletries are used. 
If your business involves consumables then this could be the ideal time to introduce a subscription service to make it easier for customers to buy the products they use most and ensure that they buy more so they don’t run the risk of running out. 
A simple but recurring system will take the stress away from customers and set up a regular income stream for the company – and could also lead to more sales of related products once they see how easy and beneficial the new way of buying and delivery is.

Virtual Homework 
Some businesses require staff to be on the premises to do their work but others have adapted to allow them to do some assembly or other work at home that is usually associated with the business – whether it be tailoring, sales, assembly or other tasks that can be completed with sufficient materials. 
Service providers are also finding that the huge increase in video calls is a new niche that they can use to better engage with their customers virtually. 
Beauticians, spas and hair colourists usually really focus on personal interaction in a salon setting but video calling has given them an opportunity to move into expert tuition and guidance.  They can sell beauty products and supplements and provide a one-to-one service where they can show the buyer how to apply and use them properly. 
Additionally they can host regular masterclasses on new products and how to apply them correctly and can simplify the purchase procedure by posting the link directly on the cast or sending it to the participants individually perhaps with discount inducements to get them to buy more than they previously would have.

Yes, platform
If you are looking at online retail for the first time then there are several different approaches you can take.  
As well as adding transaction e-commerce functionality to your own website, you can create storefronts in some of the biggest online marketplaces like Amazon, Ebay and Facebook Marketplace.  
If your business sells more specialist products then there might be specialist websites for customers interested in them – Etsy, for instance for homemade goods or Bookshop – an alternative marketplace specifically for UK independent booksellers.  
Some sites are going even further. Streetify is attempting to recreate the traditional high street digitally – allowing users to “walk” up and down a high street that is represented by virtual storefronts. Users can then visit them and take advantage of any specific deals, sales or other options from within. 
For some retailers even the most brilliant new innovations might not be enough to see them through the latest lockdown and into the new year. 

All the other available options

But there are other options available to them that could allow them to keep trading with some changes. 
They could look to obtain an insolvency moratorium – a new legal protection designed to give companies up to 20 working days of “breathing space”.  This allows insolvency professionals to work with them to restructure the company and emerge stronger and more viable while creditors pause their actions to allow it to happen.
There are other options available to help them including CVAs or administration but whatever situation your business is looking at you should get in touch with us first
A free, initial consultation with one of our expert advisors will give you some clarity about your options and what you can do next for your company. 
Whether it’s adopting some new tactics and strategies to fit the new lockdown or a more substantial change of direction – we’ll help you get there.