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The COVID-19 playbook

By Retail Technology | Friday April 3 2020

COVID-19 has put considerable pressure on the retail supply chain, so how do you ensure you rise to the challenge? Matthew Robertson, Co-CEO, NetDespatch, outlines the path

COVID-19 has hit the UK and its effect on retailers across all industries and the professionals in logistics, supply chain and operations who fulfil the multichannel retail promise to customers has been palpable. Turning the virtual pages of any commerce-focused publication could leave the reader in a heightened state of panic as further talk of the demise of the high street and an overburdened logistics and supply chain garners increased column inches.

There is little doubt that this turn of events will impact retailers who will have to make changes, not only to their commercial strategies but also delivery, operations and customer relations in a bid to survive this period.  As an industry if we can pull together and tweak our strategies, we can remain productive through this period and keep a semblance of business as usual. 

Prepare yourself for the rise of ecommerce 

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 all non-essential physical shops have shut down in the UK, this means that retailers have been forced to turn to e-commerce. Due to this significant change consumers behaviours have been forced to change also.  ParcelHero has predicted that e-commerce purchases are likely to increase to 40% of all retail sales at its peak, as consumers switch from buying household goods instore to online.

I would urge retailers to act now and gear their omnichannel sales towards e-commerce to be able to take advantage of this rise of online shopping. Retailers need to evaluate their online sales capabilities to see if they can cope with the significant increase in demand. Consulting your partners, carrier network and logistics team will allow you to plan accordingly to be able to meet customer demands.

If COVID-19 becomes a recurring problem, then the significance and demand for e-commerce may continue to rise as many vulnerable people may still be at risk. Putting a greater significance on online sales will benefit retailers not only in the short term but also in the future, as consumer behaviours may still shift after the pandemic is over.

Due to the increase in demand online there are going to be potential disruptions in delivery. I would advise that retailers are as open and transparent with consumers about any potential disruptions. Although this will put the pressure on, it will allow you to build customer trust if you keep your lines of communication clear and open. Where the supply chain is affected, it has been shown that customers are willing to wait longer for a delivery in order to not go to a store. This rise in e-commerce will undoubtably change retailers’ existing processes; they may be able to improve these processes more efficiently, faster and mitigating a financial loss by utilising the latest e-commerce technology and proactively responding to the sharp rise in customer demand.

Doubling home deliveries 

As the rise in ecommerce continues due to COVID-19, retailers are keen to deliver to self-isolating customers, hence the number of home deliveries is due to increase. I would advise that retailers make sure that procedures are in place to minimise the risk of infection for their delivery drivers and customers.

There are two actions that retailers can implement to ensure the utmost safety for drivers and customers. Firstly, retailers should suspend the use of handheld signature devices altogether. Currently some delivery services are suspending the devices in cases where the customer has informed the retailer that they are self-isolating. The UK should adopt the approach of other EU countries that ask for a signature online when the parcel has been delivered.

Secondly, delivery drivers should avoid entering anyone’s home and look for alternative options to drop off deliveries. Retailers need to begin asking customers where they want their packages delivered. Having a drop off point for deliveries ensures that there is a minimum transmission risk between delivery driver and customer.

How to tackle the fulfilment issues

As the UK looks at only opening essential retail outlets like grocers, the change in customer behaviours will undoubtably shift - the levels at which people are buying household essentials have already dramatically increased. Research by The Progressive Grocer shows that 67% of grocers said their largest fulfilment issue is not being able to keep store shelves stocked due to intense customer demand and 24% noted that particular products were being sold out in the supply chain. To combat this, I would advise that grocers expand pickup and delivery services. Additionally, grocers can look to limit the number of essential items customers are taking from the store and implement a unit-per-person scheme, where only a certain number of units of an essential item can be bought by one person.

Time to reflect 

Now is a crucial time for retailers to re-evaluate what they are doing, how they are doing it and what are the aspects they need to improve to survive and serve customers in the best possible way during COVID-19. Retailers need to put a number of strategies and processes in place to assist customers – most of whom are anxious and may be struggling themselves with having to change their shopping habits to online -, reinforce fulfilment strategies, switch to ecommerce and make sure they can cope with delivery demands.

This an important time for retailers to rely on the relationships they have built over time with their customers. In a time of hardship, being open and honest with your customers will not only build but reinforce your relationships with them.

In this time of uncertainty, retailers need to make sure all the right processes and precautions are in place to be able to firstly deliver on customer demand but to also to strive as far as possible for business as usual and navigate  this difficult time as best we can.

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