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Retail stores will need to remain agile even as Europe looks forward to life after mass vaccination.

January 28, 2021 BySensormatic News Desk

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Wide variances in store traffic from country to country reflect the different responses retailers have adopted to lockdown in the face of the most recent spike in Covid infections. The most recent falls have been dramatic, in the face of the impact of the latest Covid variant that has been shown to be more virulent than the original strain.

Year on year comparisons vary wildly. In France, ShopperTrak data from Sensormatic’s traffic analysis shows that footfall fell 58.10% between January 3 and 9 2021, compared with the same period in 2020 (adjusted for available shopping days). In Germany, the drop off in the same period was 97.20%. In the UK, the drop off at 76.10 compared to Germany was lower, as the country looked forward to schools opening, which was cut short on January 11.

The brief positive start to Christmas was cruelly cut off, and the normally buoyant January sales have been dampened by continuous discounting. Finding positive news in this context is not easy other than recognising the lessons that can be learned from a lack of consistency in response country by country.

Despite mass vaccination programmes now progressing in earnest across Europe, it is estimated that even in the UK, which started earlier than most other countries, the majority of the population will not be protected until at least September, and this long timetable is certain to bring unpredictability to store traffic predictions for some time to come.

It also means that the safety measures put in place will have to continue for the foreseeable future and in some cases tightened in order to deter non-compliance. UK grocers, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, both announced on January 11 that they would ask customers not wearing masks to leave the store, for example.

The good news is that overall retail sales held up well for many retailers in some sectors (DIY and sporting goods for example) and while more of these transactions were processed online, the demand for click-and-collect and drive-thru services from the store remained high as consumers looked to avoid delivery charges, get their deliveries quickly and use the excuse to get out of the house.

Some of this behaviour is certain to become habitual, given that it will soon have been going on for a whole year, so retailers will need to embrace post-Covid behaviour that looks very similar to inter-Covid behaviour. This enables the store to maintain its relevance as online retail continues to take up a larger share of total shopping.

The impact on the store has already been profound as retailers have attempted to offer their usual high quality shopping experience while having to safeguard customers and staff with a raft of measures to enable social distancing, hygiene, safe wayfinding and prominent shrink avoidance signage.

On top of this, they will need to continue to count and analyse traffic to ensure that staff numbers and roles can be optimised to manage what is certain to be more unusual traffic patterns than seen in recent years.

And retailers will want to consolidate all these measures in to a true picture of store performance over time, as they look to review the entire store estate and rethink total numbers, size, layout and function, even to the extent of using the store as a mini warehouse to fulfil a growing number of on line orders for click and collect. Interestingly, Amazon spoke with Simon Property Group in the US to take over mall spaces left vacant by closed department stores that once belonged to J.C. Penney and Sears, to turn these spaces into online fulfilment centres. This possible trend has yet to surface in Europe, but the thinking is there – can the store play a wider role in the new digital economy and, if so, how will it operate?

For more insights on the impact of the pandemic on retail, follow Sensormatic Solutions on Linkedin.

 

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