COMMENT: The easing of lockdown means new challenges for retailers

The easing of lockdown measures presents a new set of challenges for retail leaders but they must remain focused on their purpose, writes Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service.

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Jo Causon The easing of lockdown means new challenges for retailers comment opinion
How retailers act now will shape how they are viewed by customers and employees far into the future and an ill-thought through, knee-jerk reaction in the face of falling sales could damage long-term loyalty, Jo Causon writes. (Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

The UK Government’s announcement of an easing of lockdown measures marks a move into the next phase of the Covid-19 crisis for many businesses – and brings with it a new set of complex challenges.

As I said at the start of the crisis – and it is equally true now – difficult times call for strong leadership. As we tackle the intractable challenges ahead, it is the job of retail leaders to remain focused – and ensure that in dealing with short-term decisions, they do not lose sight of their long-term purpose.


READ MORE: COMMENT: Maintaining & building customer loyalty in the time of corona


For those sectors able to re-open, albeit tentatively, an immediate concern is of course how to protect the health and wellbeing of customers and staff.

It goes without saying that care must be taken to ensure procedures and building quality are fit for purpose. Retail leaders must also ensure they are critically assessing their decisions – balancing pressure from stakeholders and investors with the need to act responsibly. How retailers act now will shape how they are viewed by customers and employees far into the future and an ill-thought through, knee-jerk reaction in the face of falling sales could damage long-term loyalty.

“How retailers act now will shape how they are viewed by customers and employees”

This easing of lockdown measures does not mark a “return to work” for much of the nation. Thousands of employees have been working tirelessly for months now from home offices and dining room tables, and retail leaders must remain focused on engaging and motivating their remote workforce, who will likely be operating under mounting pressure and frustration.

Even when all are able to return safely to the workplace, this long term experiment in working from home will undoubtedly change the landscape of not only office-based working, and leaders will need to consider how to implement new working systems to adapt to the new world.

Policies around increased flexible hours (or enforced staggering of hours), remote working options, more frequent communications (delivered remotely) and reduced or more creative “office” space will require significant planning and coordination. Will the old fashioned office space become a series of creative hubs and coffee spaces? Good retail leaders will be thinking ahead to implement these seamlessly when the time comes.

Now is the time to think hard about what we retain, what we have learnt and what we will reject. How do we want our operating base to work in the future? And what does this mean for our processes, infrastructure and culture – and ultimately the offerings we deliver?

“Now is the time to consider what we will do for customers”

Customers, too, will undoubtedly behave differently as we move through this crisis – and business recovery plans must be flexible enough to adapt in line with changing demand. The key to successfully rebounding will be regaining consumer confidence. This will only be achieved by being acutely attuned to their needs and very clear about our propositions. Now is the time to consider what we will do for customers and what we should stop doing.

It’s more important than ever to communicate effectively with customers, listen to their feedback, be genuine, provide reassurance and constantly relate back to purpose and relevance. The crisis has presented a unique opportunity to reset how we operate – taking stock of what we have learnt, and adapting and innovating in order to create businesses that put the needs of customers and employees at the heart of what they do. In doing so, I believe we can not only successfully recover from this crisis, but build a true service nation that is the envy of the world.

The months and years ahead will present more difficult and complex challenges for leaders and their people, and tough decisions will have to be made. But I am confident that those that remain level-headed, act responsibly by customers and employees and embrace the opportunity to learn and innovate – will prosper.

Jo Causon is the CEO of The Institute of Customer Service

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2 COMMENTS

  1. We also need to rebuild locally. Shopping has been designed as a remote often out of town exercise, communal with stores designed for high throughput but this is now impossible.
    The cure is for local shops, within walking distance (real or virtual stores, where shoppers can look and at least order for local delivery), smaller stores with smaller customer base and this means moving away from anything mass*
    Rents will have to be cut to accommodate the smaller stores and the cost of more staff (meaning workers will have to see rent cuts too); the entire real estate model that we have (with real estate a fixed cost for every unit in the company) will have to be re evaluated to cope with a changed national model. There is no point in reopening malls when the malls can’t accept large numbers of people

  2. The underlying issues are still there just masked by the epidemic. The various governments of the U.K. (I include devolved government as much of what you say above only applies to England) need to devote more time and resourced and a genuine willingness to assist towns and businesses.
    The “experience ” in our shops has to be improved, and combined with great service.

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