When you think of hybrid working, retail probably isn’t the first industry that comes to mind. Yet, along with hospitality, it was one of the sectors that was impacted so profoundly by the pandemic – with likely permanent consequences in terms of changing consumer behaviors and expectations.
It’s been over two years since non-essential retailers were forced to shift their entire businesses online, and while we’re no longer required to all stay indoors, there are many learnings that can be taken from this experience to drive sustained growth.
The first is to plan for reduced high street footfall for the long-term. The high street was in decline even before the pandemic but – in combination with lockdowns – we just haven’t seen the resurgence many were hoping for. Indeed, findings from the British Retail Consortium suggest total UK high street footfall decreased by 17.1 percent in January, compared with pre-pandemic levels in the same month of 2020).
While the customer experience hasn’t simply been confined to brick-and-mortar stores for some time now, Covid-19 accelerated that trend exponentially, with a continued surge in e-commerce. KPMG reports that nearly four in five (78 percent) of consumer and retail leaders plan to invest more in e-commerce or digital sales platforms this year, along with a similar figure (77 percent) looking to customer-centric technologies – such as chat bots and dedicated websites.
It’s not just customer-facing technology that’s seeing major revamps, however. With the right technology, retailers can reconsider their entire approach to recruitment. If customers can engage with the brand, access customer services and buy products from anywhere, then why should staff need to be centralized in a finite number of locations?
The Rise of Location-Agnostic Working
One global big box retailer we work with identified this early. Having previously focused its head office within a handful of city-based locations, it is now practically location-agnostic so it can attract a broader talent pool. Harnessing technology such as desktop-as-a-service (DaaS), in combination with supporting collaboration platforms, enables retailers to build collective workforces anywhere across the globe.
This is also reflected in the way customer expectations of retailers have changed. A recent global study from AI company Nuance found the majority of consumers (58 percent) believe that, even after the pandemic, they’ll continue to have more digital interactions than they did previously – with convenience and speed called out as key benefits.
Preparing for Revenue Slow-Down
As hybrid working becomes the norm across industries, retailers can benefit from not only offering key customer services through the channels most sought after, but also doing so at a reduced cost with employees often working from home.
This is particularly important in the context of today’s rising cost of living. With the price of energy, food, and raw materials only increasing – indeed the cost of filling the average car with petrol went over £100 for the first time recently – retailers are likely to feel the knock-on impact of this. With inflation also on the rise, consumers are being forced to consider how they prioritize spending their income, so retailers must ensure they’re set up to deliver the best margins, by reducing their overheads.
Changing Business Models
It’s not just retail employees working in a hybrid way that’s driving change among stories. Tesco is even using excess space in one of its stores to open a flexible working space for its customers to utilize when visiting the store. This is a particularly unique example of a traditional grocery store investing in partnerships to create new business models in order to cater for changing customer behaviors. An innovative move by Tesco, this could mark the beginning of transformed retail spaces to accommodate more than the buying experience – incorporating the hybrid working ‘new normal’ into store visits for customers.
Whether it’s through looking for new ways to engage customers or creating new revenue streams entirely, it’s clear the retailers that win the race for innovation will be the ones who win the race for growth. By embracing hybrid working, retailers can deliver against both objectives, bringing in the best talent, as well as reducing their operating costs to maintain margins. The retail industry is facing an uphill battle and headwinds in the form of inflation and cost of living rises after a pandemic, significantly denting consumer confidence. But by investing in the right technology, and critically the right thinking, it can weather this unpredictable storm.
The author, Nichola Glover, is a director at Citrix and explores how, with the right technology, retailers can reconsider their entire approach to recruitment.