Flexibility in retail: from fad to fundamental, and how alliances with others could be the key to success

23 July 2020
Author: Linzi McGuire

Retail has been hit hard by the pandemic, in both positive and negative ways. Essential retail has hit new peaks and returned to some level of calm, all in the past 5 months, while non-essential retail is still recovering.

Retail has had to be fast on its feet to implement and respond to changes in unprecedented time frames, but now that the dust is starting to settle, it’s time to examine how sustainable the current traditional retail model is in the new normal. Store closures, furloughed and redundant staff, the shift to online shopping, increased health and safety measures, and the lack of personality that characterises post-pandemic shopping will all have an effect.

We also know that consumer needs and expectations are changing, so retail needs to work harder to encourage shoppers into store, to make sales once they’ve got their audience inside, and foster loyalty to keep them coming back. So, what do retailers need to do to achieve this, and fast, before the promiscuous shopper goes elsewhere or their approach forces the retailer out of the market?

Today, we’ll look at the benefits of retailers being open to partnerships and alliances, whether that’s with brands, other retailers or agencies who can help with resourcing expertise, agility and cost efficiency.

Here are 3 benefits of partnership and alliances with others for the optimum retail machine:

1. Flexibility

Flexibility to staff the store where and when is needed according to ever changing consumer demand – whether that flexibility is required to move staff to other locations to satisfy the hyper local shopping trend, or switch staff from shop floor into other tasks like warehousing and delivery according to demand, or to cover long term sick with minimal cost. This could drive new models of collaboration and alliance between retailers and their stakeholders.

The consequence of not doing this could be dire. With little flexibility, retailers will need to make harder decisions about which activities, stores and channels to maintain, and which need to be stopped. At this point, many longer-term investments will no longer make sense and retailers will need to start making tough decisions about what they can afford to do. This is a position that consumer, retailer and brand want to avoid, so finding ways to work together to pioneer a new type staffing in retail may be the answer.

2. Skillset

The skillset to captivate the consumer once in outlet, whether in store or online, through knowledge and expertise, personal shopping or some other means, will help sell more and increase loyalty.

Forget if you build it, they will come. Think, if you make them feel special, they will return.

The retail industry is without a doubt one of the biggest sectors in UK and Ireland PLC. With around three million people employed in retail and wholesale in the UK alone, it’s the largest private sector employer in the country. And right now, it’s also on the front line of the looming skills shortages that are likely to create challenges for all sectors. So, what can retail do to get a jump on this and be proactive in the way they equip staff with the right skills and expertise they need to satisfy consumer demand? Partnership with others would be a huge benefit, whether that’s levering brand partners or field agencies. Managing this from a central source could enable retailers to overhaul their whole industry and lift the standard of the retail experience enormously.

It would also enable them to quickly gain the technical expertise they need to close the gap between the online and offline experience, which in some areas of retail is stark, and poses a real threat to their survival rate.

3. Agility

The agility to scale this up and down as required, across the country.

Retailers need to find a way to elevate their business and the customer experience simultaneously, while minimising inefficient spending. Alliances with others may be the answer to address scarce capabilities and enable the labour pool to move more fluidly to meet demand across priority activities.

Retail can turn to agencies for staffing models at any scale, in any location, and for any skillset. This removes the complexity or hiring, firing and training retail professionals and instead, allows them to be more reactive when it comes to adapting to trends, or planning their next strategy.

However, agencies can not only support when it comes to scale recruitment or people management and performance tracking from a central source, but they can help with data and insight. And even better, they can harmonise both. It’s well known that retailers sit on incredible amounts of data, whether that’s EPOS, brand engagement, cart abandonment in ecommerce or information on footfall, but in some areas, this could be used more to optimise the approach too. Partnering with an agency who can directly link their staffing models with their data trends, and match the two to provide the ultimate solution in coverage type and geography while creating efficiencies AND selling more, could be priceless.

Gordon Neil, Strategy & Marketing Director comments, “Fresh thinking on partnerships and alliances could be key for retailers as they establish how to succeed in a fast-changing environment. Sales and Marketing agencies have the expertise to partner with retailers to unlock the agility, skillset and insight required to sell more, as efficiently as possible. Our existing partnerships with Dixons-Carphone and Sainsbury’s means that those retailers can be certain that brands utilise the skilled and accredited resource required in their stores, and the ability to leverage that resource in their own business. Further evolution in this area can only help reach the goals of both retailers and brands. I’d encourage progressive retailers who are ready to collaborate on a fresh approach to get in touch and discuss how we can work together.”

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