The re-closure of non-essential stores in England from 5 November for at least four weeks, however appropriate, is the last thing that retailers needed. It comes at a particularly important time of the year for retailers with the festive season fast approaching and Black Friday just around the corner, an eagerly awaited fixture on the retail calendar for the past decade. Ipsos Retail Performance had forecast that footfall during the week in which Black Friday falls (the week commencing 22 November), would be the busiest of the year in footfall terms, with predictions of it being even higher than the week before Christmas for the first time in history. This will not be the case now.
Since the first lockdown, retailers have known that they needed to invest in their online operational and marketing capabilities in order to be able to serve their customers remotely. The silver lining to the latest closures is that they have now scaled up and are more fit-for-purpose than ever to switch to selling online. They still face huge challenges though, particularly over fulfilment (both in terms of warehouse dispatch and home delivery services), which will struggle to meet the normal ramp-up of sales to Christmas. Even if stores are allowed to re-open in December, social distancing and safety measures will prevent stores from being able to serve the usual crowds seen at this time of year.
Our advice is to begin your shopping earlier this year and to spread it out over a few weeks rather than leave it to the last minute. The last thing families want, this year of all years, is to suffer disappointments from presents failing to arrive in time for Christmas, and the last thing retailers want is to let their customers down.
Despite the damage done to the sector this year, British retailers have shown how resilient, how responsive and how resourceful they can be when the going gets tough. Regretfully there have been some big name casualties, putting thousands of jobs at risk, but there are every year. Past experience tells us that some will be ultimately be saved, but that doesn’t help the anxiety of employees in the meantime. Generally speaking, the creativity and energy with which the sector has reshaped itself, realigned its direction and refocused its values is a credit to its adaptability. It is those that have been most resistant to change and to change quickly that have paid, or still risk paying the price.
As we said last year, there is not a fundamental problem with physical retail, people still enjoy it, but there is a problem with bad retailers. There will be many fewer of them after 2020.