RSi COVID-19 Insights From Around The Globe – Community Driving Change
Will Driscoll, Senior Retail Account Manager, Retail Solutions, April 14, 2020
There are so many things that have changed for us all because of the COVID-19 pandemic that it’s difficult to narrow the focus down to one blog post. So, I thought about the most positive thing to come out of this so far – the importance of community, and how a strengthened sense of community will impact our behaviour for years to come. Could local retail be fighting back? And, how are larger online and retail stores being affected by the current coronavirus crisis?
I hope everyone has at least one story of how they’ve been positively impacted by their community in recent weeks, I know I have. Anything from chatting on the phone to someone you haven’t spoken to for ages, to someone offering to take your dog for a walk, or maybe even a caped crusader dropping off emergency loo roll! I live with a “vulnerable person” – as my wife has “an underlying condition” – and our 8-month-old daughter, so we’re having to self-isolate at home.
We live in a small town in Oxfordshire, which I have always loved for its sense of community, but now more than ever this trait shines through. Just yesterday a very useful 4-page leaflet landed on my doorstep, written and delivered by volunteers. This information can also be found online, but many older people are not active on social media or other sites, so knowing the whole town has access is reassuring.
My social media game has improved too. This limitless community has certainly helped us recently – great tips on Facebook, new WhatsApp groups for silly chats with old friends, and a “conference call” for our local baby group was a new (and quite scary) development!
A primary challenge has been to keep the cupboards full. The last “big shop” we did was on 13th March, just before the real wave of chaos hit retail (but still no loo roll or pasta!) Since then I’ve received a text telling us there are some home-made samosas on our doorstep, cakes dropped round, even a bag of veg from a nearby food wholesaler – which promptly got turned into pasta sauce with a recipe from a friend. All amazingly kind gestures, but not enough to keep us going indefinitely.
We tried online retail and were obviously met with no access to the website or available delivery slots when trying to place grocery orders from the major chains. The challenges they’re facing are massive at present, so we turned to our community, and they delivered – literally. I placed an online order with our local butcher. Excellent, I thought, I’ll have a fridge full of meat and pies in a few days, all being well. I ordered at midday and my phone rang at 4.30 while I was walking the dog. I was surprised to hear it was a woman delivering my order at my door. I told her I was only 5 minutes away, so feel free to drop it off. Don’t worry, “I’ll wait,” she said. How often do you hear that from delivery staff – “I’ll wait?” Obviously, the quick delivery meant I got meat pie for tea. Then there was the lady who took a few minutes out of her manic day to ensure I got my order and her employer who allowed her the flexibility to do so. This level of service and dedication under difficult circumstances will resonate with me for a long time. Without question, I’ll be returning to this butcher for my future needs.
Another example of how my community has changed my shopping behaviour is a new subscription for fruit and veg, delivered by a local farm. With meat and vegetables from new sources, my supermarket shopping will significantly decrease. The onus is now on my previous grocery provider to determine how they grow my basket again. And when the dust settles after all this, I’m sure they’ll try to do so, possibly successfully if they can meet my new demands for service and quality.
Working in this industry, I have read many stories like mine – people who never shopped online before are now doing so, and more importantly, enjoying the experience. Be it with a grocery chain or a local business.
Some initial UK data we have for one of our global customers has shown a significant uplift in online sales during the last 2 weeks of March. Their online contribution to total sales are up c. 4%, +133% YoY. Seen across both grocery and pharmacy channels. Not all sales are on the up, as we see retailers restrict “non-essential” sales online and instore – Ocado, a leading UK online retailer ‘has implemented the following, which will have a huge impact for bottled water manufacturers.
Cosmetics, “BWS,” and other categories have been impacted by trade restrictions. Linked to this, another community led initiative I have experienced and very much enjoyed, was take away beer from my local pub. This is somewhere I frequent far too often, so was only too keen to support them. Quite a simple initiative on their part, but their ability to be agile and act quickly is one that could have a ripple effect. Pub take out could take off, creating a whole new retail channel which would impact “BWS” sales from the current traditional sources (grocery and off licences). Restaurants that previously hadn’t offered take away may well follow suit, creating further disruption to the status quo.
COVID-19 will lead to a seismic shift in buying behavior globally – if you weren’t previously focused on Omnichannel, now is the time to invest in understanding these channels and how your business can benefit. Small, community businesses and services have been forced to react fast and lead the change. Some will succeed while others, unfortunately, won’t. The data we’ve seen is already suggesting that those businesses reacting quickly should prosper during this challenging time and beyond.