In 2020, the retail sector was hit hard, but our members demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability. Despite hopes for a post-pandemic return to normal, retail will never be the same. A retail transformation was already well underway before the pandemic arrived to accelerate it, pushing certain consumer behavioral changes years ahead of predictions. Store closures and consolidations have also been accelerated, which may encourage cash-rich retailers to buy inventory, key locations, or entire competitors, at a discount.
Much is still uncertain, but there are already some clear indications of what to expect from the new retail reality.
An e-commerce boom
Pandemic restrictions forced masses of consumers to shop online, whether they liked it or not, driving many businesses to quickly ramp up their online presence. Although recent Canadian polling data indicate that consumers still prefer to shop in-store – heralding a likely post-pandemic surge in in-store traffic – e-commerce will play an increasingly important role in generating sales and growth.
Health and safety to remain a priority
The strict sanitation protocols put in place during the pandemic are likely here to stay. Given Canadians’ enhanced aversion to germs, stores will need to continue to emphasize cleanliness and safety and support a more distanced way of shopping, including enhanced e-commerce and curbside or in-store pickup options. If necessary, reorganize your store space to reduce clutter and accommodate pickup orders. On the supply side, cleanliness protocols may lead to longer delivery lead times and a greater need for safety stocks.
Delivery and “local” more important than ever
Home delivery took off during the pandemic, as did curbside pickup. Stores fulfilling their increasing volume of online orders have strained the capacity of the large courier chains and Canada Post. To get orders to your customers, consider partnering with a local, last-mile delivery company. This will also demonstrate your commitment to supporting local suppliers and capitalize on the growing popularity of the “buy local” phenomenon, which reached a new high in 2020.
To support our independent retailers across Canada, Cantrex ran a successful social media campaign – “Think Local. Shop Local. Buy Local.” – across all its social networks during the 2020 holiday season. On Facebook alone, the campaign boosted customer reach by 91 percent and engagement by 30 percent during the crucial Black Friday period from November to early December.
A more flexible workplace
With more and more workplaces pivoting to remote work, employees will likely demand more flexibility and support for working from home. Expect to see more demand for higher wages, shift flexibility and sick leave. The need for part-time workers will also increase to meet the rising demand for home delivery.
Despite the lay-offs caused by the temporary (and permanent) business closures due to the pandemic, Canada will continue to be a predominantly service-based economy, and workers will be needed to deliver goods and services. Planning and assessment of your human resources is more critical than ever, and you may have to re-align to retain your best employees. However, the greater availability of top performers at all levels (due to lay-offs and consolidations) can work to your advantage and help you grow your business.
Group insurance programs are essential for the growth of any retail business, allowing you to recruit and retain talent. If you aren’t already enrolled in a group insurance program, consider joining the affordable program offered through Cantrex
Video chat as a sales tool
Video calling became the go-to app during the pandemic. Consumers embraced it for social contact; remote workers, for business purposes. Retailers, too, have begun to recognize the value of video chat as a sales tool for sharing product videos, reviewing technical specs, walking consumers through features and functions in a demo, and boosting trust via face-to-face interaction. Consider offering video chat, after work, on the weekend, or even late at night. Whether a consumer is buying an appliance, furniture or an upscale product, why not offer the option of connecting to a sales associate or product expert at the customer’s convenience?
The Cantrex advantage
Cantrex will always have your back. During the pandemic, we went to bat for our retailers, ensuring supply and getting the best possible terms from several vendor-partners. We continue to work tirelessly to provide you with merchandising programs that compete with the national chains, digital marketing programs to optimize your online presence so consumers ultimately buy from you, and best-in-class business solutions to keep your operations running smoothly and profitably.
Being proactive in managing your business is critical in these especially challenging times. Our Cantrex team will continue to work closely with you to foster resilience and position you as the “local” choice in your community. Together, we can help you with the transformations needed to build a successful future in retail.
Jeannine Ghaleb is President and COO of Cantrex Nationwide, which represents Canadian Members of Nationwide Marketing Group