These articles were originally published by World Retail Congress as part of “The Retail World 2020: Retailing in a time of crisis”, a fortnightly publication focused on COVID-19’s effect on retailers globally.
The shock of a near-simultaneous shutdown of the global economy has been wrenching for most industries, with retail among the worst hit. In responding to the global crisis, retailers are having to focus on short-term operational issues while also looking ahead at what is likely to be a very different retail landscape. This is a challenge like never before, but there have been some impressive examples of innovation even in the middle of chaos. In this series, we take a look around the world and focus on those countries hit hardest by the coronavirus to highlight instances of quick thinking and rapid innovation in retail.
View our COVID-19 Response guides for more insights and advice for businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus.
Fast track to being agile
The ability to move fast and adapt is a clear characteristic of winning retailers throughout this ongoing crisis. As part of World Retail Congress Connected, we interviewed three leading retail executives to understand more about what "agility" means to them. Here, we summarize the key takeaways from our Retail Agility Series.
Getting creative with store space
In an overstored geography like the US, the role of the store had been evolving even before the pandemic hit. But as retail tactics changed at the onset of closures, the role of the store changed rapidly – transforming from a customer touchpoint location to a critical node in the supply system. Temporarily closed sites became dark stores, essentially acting as mini warehouses and/or offering click-and-collect services, helping ease the load of burgeoning online orders. Whole Foods and Kroger were among chains to test dark stores, while Stop & Shop and Albertsons tested automated fulfillment centers at the back of existing stores. Going forward, retailers will continue to take a serious look at making store space more productive, and not just in the short term.
Joel Rampoldt, Managing Director
Alexa Driansky, Senior Vice President
Bringing the mall into the home
Faced with the reality of losing footfall, mall operators and retailers made quick swerves into fast-tracking their ecommerce and delivery capabilities. Mall operator Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) upgraded the Carrefour UAE portal, which had previously been on trial for almost six months, into an online marketplace. This allowed MAF tenants to continue reaching their customers by listing products on Carrefour’s mobile app and website. Similarly, Emaar Malls had tenants not only list their inventory on popular ecommerce platforms Noon and Namshi but also utilize their superior distribution capabilities to get products into the hands of customers.
Karl Nader, Managing Director
Hisham Abdul Khalek, Director
Technology adoption accelerates
Cashless transactions were the call of the hour. Sainsbury’s SmartShop app had existed prior to COVID-19, but adoption accelerated much more rapidly than the retailer could have predicted as it aggressively marketed the contactless shopping service during the crisis. Using the app, customers were able to scan their shopping as they walked around the supermarket, pack their purchased products up on their own, and walk straight out the store without them or their shopping coming in close contact with anyone. Safe for the customer, easy for the retailer. Ocado, meanwhile, set up virtual queues to help keep its website up and functioning during the surge of online orders.
Matt Clark, Managing Director
Dan Coen, Managing Director
Bringing world-class cuisine to the home
Confined at home and bereft of their beloved cafes, people unsurprisingly took to home cooking in a big way—but with a decidedly French twist. Upscale restaurants in Paris, Lyon, and Marseille came up with ingenious idea of offering contactless deliveries at home of restaurant-style dishes that could either be easily put together or reheated without any loss of flavor. Star chef Alain Ducasse launched Ducasse chez moi, or “Ducasse at home”, which included a package of 15 different ready-to-cook dishes, dessert included, delivered at home by bike. Adeline Grattard from the highly regarded YamT’Cha also delivered full meals once a week to Parisian neighbors.
Olivier Salomon, Managing Director
Emilie Dubuc, Vice President
Streamlining delivery to minimize delays
As home delivery became the norm and demand skyrocketed, industries joined together to ease their collective burden. Grocery chains Hema and 7Fresh were among retailers that brought on thousands of employees from restaurants to help with delivery-related activities such as sorting and packing. Hema, also known as Freshippo, commissioned buses to help consolidate deliveries instead of sending individual couriers on electric scooters. Restaurant delivery partner Meituan Dianping, meanwhile, sought to allay customers’ concerns about food safety by leaving behind a card listing temperatures of everyone involved in the cooking and (contactless) delivery process alongside the meal.
Michael McCool, Managing Director
Jason Ong, Director
Loyalty gets tested…and wins
Despite severe restrictions on movement, Italian shoppers stuck to tried and tested retailers and brands for their grocery needs. Esselunga, whose superstores are mostly located outside of city centers, initially saw hits to revenue because government recommendations asked that people limit visits to their most proximate store. However, the grocer was able to partially offset these declines by leveraging its customers’ strong loyalty. Most purchases for the retailer during the period of closure occurred on its loyalty card. Esselunga took measures to increase social distancing and streamline the flow of shoppers in stores, and many loyal consumers preferred waiting in long lines to going over to a different store. The lesson? Building trust works even in a crisis, or maybe especially in one.
Marco Eccheli, Managing Director
Michele Paolo D’Angelo, Director
Lorenzo Novella, Director
Germany and Switzerland
Going digital, in more ways than one
Fewer than one in five Western European consumers had purchased groceries online before the pandemic. Even among these scant numbers, the share of ecommerce in total grocery shopping has been among the lowest in Germany and Switzerland. But the pandemic may have advanced the countries four to five years into the future. We expect some consumers who had never before bought food or groceries online will stick around, thus increasing the overall market share measurably. Both countries also experienced another dramatic culture shift as retailers, big and small, raced to implement digital payment methods.
Peter Heckmann, Managing Director
Cornelia Bruehwiler, Director