Why an Omnichannel Approach will Help Retailers Improve Agility, Resiliency
The pandemic led to numerous changes throughout the retail environment, including panic buying and shortages of essential items. This was problematic, no doubt — but take a look beneath the surface and it becomes apparent that different parts of the industry fared better than others. Online sales skyrocketed as in-store revenue plummeted for those outside the grocery business.
But even supermarkets were vulnerable to sales challenges. This was particularly true for grocers that failed to implement online delivery and in-store pickup options, which were especially popular during the stay-at-home orders that covered most of the country. Restaurants were challenged as well and were unable to stay functional without a takeout and delivery option in place.
While all of this will, hopefully, inspire permanent changes throughout the industry, these problems are not actually new. The pandemic has simply exposed and exacerbated retail issues that have been building for many years.
Unprepared for a Pandemic
As COVID-19 disrupted logistics operations and prevented the flow of goods from continuing as normal, retail inefficiencies — most notably its lack of agility — were put under a microscope. Supplies were further impacted when non-essential stores were closed throughout the country, requiring a large number of brands to switch to online sales exclusively. This created another set of challenges for businesses that were not prepared for such an abrupt transition.
But even online-centric enterprises were faced with a spike in demand from consumers who wanted fast delivery. Not all major grocery retailers could keep up, so it’s understandable that independent shops were especially challenged without the necessary funds or logistics to match the likes of Amazon and Walmart. At a time when revenue was already under pressure, retailers were at risk of losing additional sales if they couldn’t fulfill orders in a timely manner. And by extension, brands were at risk as well.
Delivery services have tried to fill the void for both essential and non-essential retailers, but they could not guarantee that the speed of delivery would live up to expectations. More significantly, if the requested products weren’t actually sitting on store shelves, consumers would be out of luck.
Be Ready for What Comes Next
The pandemic has made one thing is clear: Distribution may never be the same again. With fluctuating lockdowns, the possibility of a second wave looming and the threat of another pandemic looming, retailers remain uncertain about the future at a time when they should be focused on keeping employees and customers safe, while recovering as much revenue as possible.
To effectively prepare for tomorrow, retailers should consider an omnichannel approach, which is the key to building agility and resilience. This approach unites sales and marketing for a unified customer buying experience, and accounts for the spillover between channels. If retailers adjust their supply chains to handle possible fluctuations in how and where products are sold, supply chains can actually complement an omnichannel strategy.
However, if retailers instead choose to stay the course, they are likely to endure additional challenges — even if the world suddenly goes back to normal. Online sales have been gaining on physical retail for many years as more consumers shop from home. Retailers need to be prepared to adapt to these market changes whether they are gradually brought on by evolving consumer preferences or delivered suddenly by unforeseen circumstances.
Fulfill Customer Needs in any Climate
COVID-19 forced retailers to rethink their strategies. Operational practices that were once acceptable — even profitable — needed to be reexamined and realigned to meet consumer needs in the “new normal.”
By taking an omnichannel approach, retailers can unite sales and marketing for a superior customer shopping experience. This will result in businesses that are more agile and more capable of meeting goals and fulfilling customer needs in any climate.
Antony Lovell is vice president of applications for Vuealta.