Loyalty and service will count when high streets reopen – Kate Hardcastle

CHANGE is inevitable. As we start to come to terms with the full impact of coronavirus, analysts are offering stark warnings about the road ahead.

Saturday, 13th June 2020, 5:50 am
What will be the future for retail when high street stores being to reopen on Monday? Consumer champion Kate Hardcastle offers her perspective.

The focus has quite rightly been on the health and the safety of all, though some would say not nearly enough, as many of us venture outside our homes and community for the first time in weeks.

Keen gardeners queued outside nurseries and garden centres last week, flat-pack fanatics waited in lines of over an estimated 500 people for IKEA, and emergency services issued warnings to those considering joining the traffic waiting for their £25 maximum order at certain McDonald’s drive-throughs.

So far, so good for the economy then? How could anyone flag dark times ahead when it seems the UK population is so keen to get out there and start spending that they will wait so patiently for a Billy Bookcase and a Big-Mac?

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This is department store Marks & Spencer altering its fitting rooms ahead of Monday's reopening of non-essential stores.

When we look at the behaviour that could be driving what many are calling the ‘Snapback’, it makes sense that this could be a short-lived phenomena.

Such is the commitment to take-away brands from some loyal consumers that KFC’s latest advertising campaign depicts images from social media over the lockdown where some inventive customers have tried to reinvent the Colonel’s famous breadcrumb mix at home. The final line emblazes “We missed you too, But we’ll take it from here”.

The memories of many a take-out fan have likely to have become stronger over lockdown and the urge to revisit the taste of their favourite restaurant just too strong to ignore come reopening day – no matter how long the queue.

But charity shops are concerned at not being able to deal with the amount of anticipated donations heading their way, as many of us have used this time to finally ‘sort the house out’.

Kate Hardcastle is a consumer champion.

The daily walk just hasn’t proven stimulating enough for some, as one queuing shopper admitted they were mainly in line for ‘something to do’.

And with spending in some households down due to not spending on fuel and eating out, the savings could have been burning a hole in some pockets.

But as we head towards Monday, how long will the ‘snapback’ last? Looking to countries that are further ahead in the curve of the pandemic, an initial rush to spend again was quickly followed by a cooling off, and spend reverting back to current levels.

With retailers like John Lewis confirming permanent store closures, even before lockdown has lifted, it is clear there is a grey cloud ahead.

We know the imposed safety measures retailers will have to install will mean significantly reduced footfall in stores. The smaller the store footprint, the more limited amount of customers that can be served at any one time.

And whilst that is something a customer may tolerate in the sunshine, will a time-pressured customer be happy to wait on a grey day when money is tight?

Online shopping has rallied during lockdown, many customers have converted to more digital spending and just won’t go back to traditional bricks and mortar stores.

Businesses will have to invest to ensure they try and appeal to the customer for every sale. The balance of an online and offline retail presence, combining retail technology with traditional methods such as assigning a virtual queue system so that customers can spend their time in store with great service, rather than waiting outside in the rain.

Whilst there is a likely chance that there will be devastating effects on big and small businesses in our high street, the reality is that micro and smaller organisations could be hardest hit.

As consumers, there is a call to action here. We need to ensure that our high streets of the future have vibrancy and owner-operated shops. Does anyone really want their high street of the future to be full of bland brands, so that each and every place is a carbon copy of the next?

Small businesses help to weave a rich tapestry of colour and joy amongst a greyer backdrop of more corporate retail. They are more likely to use local suppliers and feedback their profits into the local community. It is also the case that many independent businesses are headed by those who have significant roles in their local area.

Yes it is true that during the pandemic some local stores have been reported to trying to be opportunistic with pricing of some high-demand items.

In the main though, there are far more independent heroes that have supported their communities, rallied to help our key-workers and converted their business virtually overnight to fill a need for their local area.

Inspiring Independents should be celebrated and supported and you have the power to do both.

Balance your spending where possible with local and independent businesses. Spread the word of their good work to others and nominate them for our Inspiring Independent wall of fame.

* Email – [email protected]; Twitter – @insightwpassion; LinkedIn – Insight with Passion Consultancy.

Kate Hardcastle MBE is a consumer champion and broadcaster. She’s known as The Customer Whisperer.

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