Keeping ahead of the innovation curve

Q&A with David Grimes, CEO of Sorted

How has the pandemic changed retail?

It’s safe to say 2020 was a tumultuous and unpredictable year. One of the tried-and-tested strategies was to bring new and innovative products and offerings to customers, or to leverage new channels to sell through. But in a world turned upside down, sticking to a single blueprint for retail growth just doesn’t cut it anymore.

So who are the winners?

The pandemic triggered a reawakening in retail, and now it’s all about survival of the fittest. Some of the champions of the past year were the brands that were quick on their feet, and constantly moving with the times. Other winners were the more ‘digitally prepared’ brands that were able to serve their customers easily in the online world. What saved the day for many retailers was by being bold and experimenting with new trends and channels, exploring new distribution routes, narrowing product lines, expanding customer demographics and offering never-before-seen retail models.

And now we have a retail revolution?

The savviest retailers have spent years implementing omnichannel strategies that blend physical and online outlets to engage consumers on their channel of choice. Last year, the impact of the pandemic on customer behaviour reshuffled the deck and saw customers ditch their old loyalties to store in the rush to shop online, almost overnight. According to McKinsey, 40% switched to whichever brands or retailers best met their online needs and as a result, in-person interaction has dramatically changed or been replaced by digital engagement.

Is it a case of online versus physical stores?

What constitutes a successful retail model or channel of the future is not simply black and white – and it does not come down to stores versus online. Rather, it’s about how you blend the two to give customers what they really want. More and more, retailers adopted ‘ship from store’ options in 2020, turning stores into ‘mini distribution centres’ in order to side-track the disruption caused by COVID-19. And with 29% of consumers saying they now shop more online than in person, this model will continue to be deployed to satisfy the surplus of e-retail addicts while making the most of retail space and stock locked up in stores.

So, just a case of put it in a box and send it out?

Hardly. As bricks-and-mortar stores dip in and out of temporary closures, we’ve seen that those who have triumphed in the face of adversity were the brands that have streamlined delivery, especially when it comes to post-purchase tracking. According to Royal Mail, 87% of online shoppers say being kept informed is the most important delivery factor to them. It’s clear now that providing clarity and confidence around the full spectrum of shipping and delivery parameters is a crucial component for brand loyalty.

So we should think ‘outside the box’?

The pandemic has shown retailers can adapt their product ranges for growth during difficult periods. This is especially true now that the stakes are much higher; brands need to be daring. Playing it safe is no longer enough to cut through the noise but there is a world of reward for those retailers who are decisive, agile and proactive.

Morrisons, Aldi and Marks & Spencer all launched a food box scheme, which was an instant hit – so much so, that they often went out of stock. It’s also quite unlikely that these products will disappear any time soon. As we enter 2021, retailers should continue to strive to stay ahead of the innovation curve – be bold and brave and you’ll reap the benefits back twofold.

Sorted shipping software powers dynamic checkouts, delivery management and delivery tracking for retail. Sorted.com

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