Covid-19. How big is the impact on retail and how to overcome it?

The government has unveiled a package of financial measures to shore up the economy against the coronavirus impact, but what measures can be taken to protect your business?

Data gathered by RetailX, on Wednesday 11 March, indicated some small but significant changes in customer behaviour due to growing Covid-19 concerns. As well as a reduction in shopping in person, the report found the UK public already cutting down on leisure activities, eating out and attending large work-related events.

Moreover, following the Prime Minister’s new Coronavirus approach outlined on Monday 16 March, we are currently witnessing increased changes to online and offline consumer behaviour.

COVID-19 in the UK: E-Commerce purchases could increase to 40% of all retail sales.

As the country now faces the very real threat of Covid-19 becoming an epidemic in the UK, Amazon are looking to hire 100,000 employees to cope with COVID-19 demand. The home delivery specialist, and one of our clients, ParcelHero says e-commerce purchases are likely to increase to 40% of all retail sales at its peak. It is urging retailers to act now to ensure they can meet the switch from store shopping to home deliveries. The UK courier expert says home shopping is likely to double from 20% of all retail sales to 40% as consumers switch from buying food and household items in stores to home deliveries.

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT says: “In the Government’s Coronavirus Action Plan, it says if the virus does get a foothold in the UK, the Government will encourage “population distancing strategies such as school closures, encouraging home working and reducing the number of large scale gatherings to slow the spread of the disease.” We are now seeing that consumers also want to avoid crowded shopping centres and the big weekly superstore shop for groceries. One obvious alternative is shopping online. Consumers who have so far resisted e-commerce are likely to change their minds and move online to buy food and household items to avoid busy stores.

Wales’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton, predicts if the virus does become an epidemic, cases will escalate from April, followed by six to eight weeks of a significant increase with a peak towards May and June, before a downturn. If this peak period does happen, we believe the rise in demand for home deliveries of food, household items and in particular products such as bleach and soaps is likely to increase by 100%. Retailers need to gear their omnichannel sales towards e-commerce and plan for a decline in store purchases over the coming months to be prepared.

Retailers of all sizes must take stock of their online sales capability and consult with their logistics teams and partner courier networks to be prepared for a significant jump in home deliveries. This is not a case of profiteering during a potential emergency, it is just switching the way they meet normal consumer demands. In fact, it seems sales on the whole will decline during the virus peak period, as people will have other things on their minds besides shopping, but the overall home delivery portion of all sales is likely to double. Our live UK courier services guide compares all quality UK couriers to determine the most convenient and best priced services, and will be a useful tool for stores looking to meet increased home delivery requirements.

Whether this rise in e-commerce sales would prove to be a long-term switch, once a Covid-19 potential outbreak were over, is open to debate. Many shoppers may well return to their old habits, but others, having shopped regularly online for their favourite brands for the first time, may continue to do so. The Government’s Action Plan also states: ‘It is possible that an outbreak or pandemic of COVID-19 could occur in multiple waves (it is not known yet if the disease will have a seasonal pattern, like flu) and therefore, depending upon what the emerging evidence starts to tell us, it may be necessary to ensure readiness for a future wave of activity.’ If the coronavirus does become a recurring problem, that might necessitate continued home shopping for many vulnerable and elderly consumers. To repeat, putting greater significance on online sales is not exploiting the situation, it is just common sense and will benefit all consumers if there is a significant outbreak here in the UK”.

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