Along with travel, hospitality and live events, retail is one of the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic. While beset with problems, the retail sector is also noted for its qualities of innovation and flexibility. With lockdown soon due to end for non-essential retail, what staps have been taken ahead of reopening?
According to the UK National Office for Statistics, the retail industry is comprises almost 5.1% of UK GDP. “The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the public health response have had large impacts on the UK and global economies. In particular, the retail industry has been impacted by the imposition of lockdown restrictions and social distancing, which have led to changes in the goods and services that we consume and how we consume them, with some areas of retail faring worse than others.”
The government goes on to say: “Policy measures introduced to contain the spread of the virus, such as public health restrictions and voluntary social distancing, had pronounced impacts on the retail industry. This included the closure of non-essential retail stores on 23 March 2020 as part of the first national lockdown that was introduced across the UK. Non-essential retailers were permitted to reopen in June with some variations across the UK nations – the earliest being in Northern Ireland (12 June) and the latest in Scotland (29 June) – although these stores were forced to shut once more as Tier 4 restrictions were introduced in certain areas across England and Scotland through autumn and a 17-day “firebreak lockdown” was introduced in Wales in late October.”
“The announcement of further lockdowns in England (5 November to 2 December and 5 January 2021 to present), as well as similar restrictions introduced across other UK nations from the end of 2020 till now has again seen the large-scale closure of non-essential retail. The impact of these restrictions has been reflected in footfall levels, in part capturing how the retail industry has been impacted in 2020.
Restrictions introduced across UK nations from the end of 2020 till now has again seen the large-scale closure of non-essential retail. The impact of these restrictions has been reflected in footfall levels, in part capturing how the retail industry has been impacted in 2020.
In the face of the restrictions, some retailers were able to maintain a percentage of their businesses developing and improving online channels. Overall. however, trends were inevitably downwards. The total volume of retail sales in Great Britain fell by 1.9% in 2020 compared with 2019, the largest fall since records began.
The impact has been particularly severe for non-essential retail. Figure 2 shows that retail sales volumes started to fall sharply in March 2020, and by April total retail sales volumes were 19% lower when compared with February levels. As these lockdown restrictions eased, there was a marked increase, which may have reflected some pent-up consumer demand.
However, this in part reflects a change in how consumers have moved to online retailing. The rising use of online shopping has eased the impact of the pandemic on the retail sector. Online sales rose rapidly following the start of the pandemic and were 60% higher in May when compared with February’s level. Total retail sales volumes recovered and since July have been above pre-pandemic (February 2020) levels. The latest figures show that total retail sales volume (excluding fuel) were 5.8% higher in December when compared with February.
It’s worth noting that the volumes of sales fell again by 4.1% in November 2020 in response to the introduction of a second lockdown in England. The latest estimates show that total retail sales volume grew by 0.3% in December, as there were initially some easing of restrictions in early December, although this was then followed by the re-imposition of tighter restrictions to non-essential retail later in the month.
Value of UK retail sales at current prices, by retail sector, seasonally adjusted, Great Britain, index February 2020=100
With many restrictions soon due to end, underlying trends – such as footfall and the 35% decline in credit card spending – suggest that bricks-and-mortar retail will have to drastically improve the shopping experience to lure shoppers back to the High Street.
What is now clear, is that ecommerce sales remained solid throughout the entirety of 2020, as consumers continued to shop online. The final quarter of 2020 drove significant ecommerce sales, spurred on by events including Black Friday, Christmas, as well as UK lockdowns. November and December saw an online sales growth of 39% and 37% respectively. Overall, new data from IMRG states that online sales grew by 36% in 2020, which is the highest growth seen in 13 years. This is in contrast to overall retail sales, which fell by 0.13%, marking the lowest annual growth figure for 25 years.
With the UK in lockdown until mid-February at the very earliest, it is easy to assume that the pattern will continue, i.e. that ecommerce will continue to boom in 2021. However, it is difficult to confidently predict what’s to come – particularly as we do not know how long disruption from the pandemic will last. Economic uncertainty could see consumers stem the ‘treat yourself’ mentality that we saw during 2020 lockdowns.
One of the worst affected sectors was fashion retail. It’s a tale of two halves in other sectors, such as fashion. Primark, for example, is expected to lose more than £1bn during the first half of its financial year. On the other hand, Boohoo is thriving with sales rising 40% during the four months to the end of December as a consequence of its strong online channel.
Where Primark refuses to sell online, Boohoo, in contrast, has capitalised on the demand for online shopping, promoting new and in-demand categories like lounge and sportswear. Boohoo uses influencer marketing to appeal to a young and digitally savvy target market. So do this trend mean it’s the end for fashion on the High Street? It is said by some retail experts that the eventual easing of restrictions could result in spend on traditional retail increasing, as well as sectors that previously struggled (such as travel or experience-focused retail) bouncing back. There is almost universal agreement that developments n experiential technologies will be instrumental in bringing consumers back to stores.
So what can technology offer to retailers seeking to develop immersive shopping experiences?
The important point here is not so much the emergence of new solutions – although they do appear with regularity – but the evolution of the retail business model. Creative technology specialists LamasaTech have identified a number of currently available technologies that can combined to provide a complete retail solution to meet customer expectations. For example, an interactive mirror can improve sales of a store by making recommendations to customers about an item that will give a complete look at what the buyer is assembling.
In addition, the mirror can text the details of the items that the customer wants to buy, but not yet ready to make a purchase without time to consider. Also, the retailer will have an opportunity to follow up with the customer even after they have left the store to know about their level of satisfaction. The system gives the retail access to data about which items go to the fitting room and are not converted to sales thereby enabling the retailer to make meaningful stock decisions.
LamasaTech believes that virtual and augmented realities are technologies that finding homes in many retail shops forced to economise on the number or experience level of sales assistants providing advice for customers making purchasing decisions on items. The retailer has the option of creating a virtual environment for the items the customer is purchasing. perhaps in the context perhaps of previous purchases.
An example might include a virtual lounge, where the customer can relate to the items within the room thereby being able to decide what they need. It also gives customers the ability to customise in different ways on basis of colours of items and location of items. Afterwards, they can take a tour to feel how people can navigate in the room.
The technology can be used with RFID chips when browsing through items with an online app or when adding items to the cart. When you visit the store to make sure it’s the item you desire, you get the bag with the item, then you can browse further, and the items are added to the smart bag. If it’s a fitting item, in the fitting room, a smart screen renders the items in the bag. After you are satisfied with the items you pay using the app.
Digital signage and touch screens are the technology that retailers are adopting to enhance interactive experiences for customers. The technology catches the eyes of customers, provides information and makes them loyal to the store. Immersive retail experiences are not only about technology but rather engaging customer’s senses, interests and ultimately loyalty.
Maximizing use of your retail digital signage assets
Andreas Neumann, Business Development Manager QSR & Retail at Sharp NEC Display Solutions Europe, looks at how digital signage is presenting retailers with a compelling solution, offering a vital communications channel, targeted efficiencies, and reduced costs over the long term.
Whether you manage an existing digital signage network or are considering digitising your retail operations, the benefits gleaned from instantly updatable, multi-usage signage cannot be overstated.
There’s nothing new in stressing the vital importance of effective communication – it is absolutely fundamental to customer service excellence! Keeping your customers updated with the latest information, promotions and brand story is critical for building and maintaining loyal customer relationships. As a medium for communication, multi-usage digital signage screens are highly versatile tools to support your communications strategy. Instantly updatable and centrally controlled, digital signage offers a future-proof investment and the potential for profitable returns.
I can make no apology for mention of the current health crisis at this point so let’s just get it out of the way first off. Retail, perhaps more than any other industry, would prefer this subject was not on the agenda, but digital signage has a lot to offer in the battle against the virus.
Managing the virus into the future will be heavily reliant on people complying with government guidance – hands, face, space. Different countries have different rules, but the basic premiss is the same and the retailer is obligated to demonstrate their efforts to ensure their customers are compliant. Communication is absolutely vital here, but where the rules are constantly changing, it can be challenging to keep your safety protocols up to date alongside maintaining your brand personality.
Limiting the number of customers entering stores is one universally encouraged measure in managing the spread of the virus, alongside ensuring a socially distanced queue outside.
Access control systems
Controlling access into stores and managing footfall in various zones within larger shops to ensure a smooth flow and reducing congestion presents retailers with a challenge. It can be managed by security staff, but this is costly long term and poses additional resourcing issues.
By combining digital signage networks with sensor-based technologies, retailers achieve an effective entrance flow management solution which also offers additional, potentially revenue generating benefits.
Located at the store entrance, camera-based solutions count people entering and exiting the premises. The screen displays the number of people for whom there is still space, much like a car parking system, and displays guidance to wait when the shop is at maximum capacity. There is ample opportunity to display multiple content alongside, including safety instructions but also customisable dynamic advertising and branding messages – the perfect infotainment antidote to reduce perceived waiting times and discourage shoppers from leaving the queue.
Once in store, sensor-based solutions monitor the movement and dwell time of shoppers within defined areas. Signage can redirect shoppers accordingly, encouraging them to visit other sections of the store first, maybe a visit to the coffee shop. Again, advertising and branding opportunities turn these screens into multi-use devices.
Benefits of digitisation
Beyond the control of customer flow, the data derived from sensor-based signage offers retailers a compelling opportunity to hone marketing campaigns with targeted advertising according to audience demographics. A clear demonstration of the ROI to be gained from a well-managed digital signage network.
There is light at the end of the tunnel as regards the current health crisis, so whilst compliance with COVID-19 safety measures will remain for the foreseeable future, we can now anticipate life returning to a tantalising normal. At this point, digital signage hardware can be reassigned elsewhere, continuing to provide essential in-store communication and engagement with your customers.
The benefits of digital communications are not just customer facing. Digital signage networks extending to staff canteens, employee lounges and training areas, storage and distribution depots and manufacturing facilities ensure your brand identity permeates throughout your total operation to motivate, incentivise, inform and train your entire workforce and supplier teams.
The move to digitisation has long been an important strategy for retailers, now more than ever, an effective online operation is imperative. The click and collect model has been a lifeline for many retailers during the current crisis, demonstrating that the key to success lies in the harmonious combination of a compelling brick and mortar presence, complemented by an efficient, fast response ecommerce capability.
Shifting spending patterns
As people are shifting spending away from holidays abroad, expenditure on household goods, DIY and garden items has fuelled recovery in retail sales. Consumers who might have seen their spending on coffee and meals reduce, find themselves with the money available to spend elsewhere. Hardware stores have seen strong sales in their online channels and recorded an increased flow of customers through their stores.
Some shoppers might find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they seek to make improvements to their homes. Targeted advertising, information and DIY top tips displayed via signage screens will offer welcome reassurance. Screens located alongside key product lines are highly effective in this scenario, enabling shoppers to access expert advice, via touch or gesture control. Videowalls and large format displays provide opportunities to inspire shoppers, stimulating their creativity and directing them to the appropriate tools for the job.
Finding your solution
All these solutions are readily available from Sharp NEC Display Solutions and our partners. We have the combined technology to maximise usage of your digital signage investment, generating sales uplift whilst effectively enhancing the customer experience, even during these difficult times.
NEC large format displays and projectors are perfectly designed to integrate seamlessly into the shop interior without impacting valuable retail space. Along shelf fronts, on columns, in shop windows and at the store entrance; ceiling hanging, wall mounted or floor standing – we can help you get creative with your signage.
Sensor software such as NEC’s leafengine facilitates integration of various sensors, triggering content delivered via NEC’s numerous computing options. Onboard PCs or media players based on Raspberry Pi, Windows or Android enable upgradable and scalable content management solutions.