On leaving 2019, high street sales fell and the outlook was bleak. The Office for National Statistics noted retail sales dropped as household spending in high street shops plunged by 0.6%, compared to the previous month.
Alarm over decreasing high street spending at the end of last year came from Brexit and brands uncertainty over access to produce with the coming split from the EU. Although 2019 was hailed the worst year for sales in a quarter of a century, online sales steadily increased by a healthy 19% up from 18.6%.
Online shopping has become the preferred path for consumers to support UK brands. As retailers notice this shift in shopping trends, they have often sought to improve their online presence to accommodate such changes. With over 48% of UK consumers intent on increasing the amount they use digital shopping channels; eCommerce platforms have never been so vital to business growth.
Neil Devlin, UK Head of Retail at Acxiom commented on retailers inability to mirror the experience shoppers have sought online in-store: "Our recent research found that 40% of UK customers feel that the high-street has been too slow in adopting technologies, showing just how much room for growth there is for retailers to take advantage of new digital solutions".
How has online shopping become so popular?
With the decline of the High Street already growing substancially, the unprecedented beginning to 2020 that the globe has experienced has seen online shopping experience a further substantial increase. Buying online has become a lifeline for many as necessities begun arriving on doorsteps, now with contact-free delivery. Kantar's supplementary research found consumers' online habits increased between 25-80% in France, Germany and the UK with people desperate to stay at home and keep safe.
And now more than ever these brands have recognised their position to give back to their customers - The Body Shop has delivered 25,000 bars of soap and 25,000 tubes of hand cream to frontline NHS workers at the newly opened Nightingale Hospital at London's ExCel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Victoria Beckham has also said: "At Victoria Beckham and Victoria Beckham Beauty, we firmly believe that during these uncertain times, feeding yourself and your family should not be one of those uncertainties." Her brand will be donating 20 percent of sales from victoriabeckham.com and victoriabeckhambeauty.com to Feeding America in the US and the Trussell Trust in the UK to support populations during this challenging time.
Some industries have seen an unprecidented demand for their business during this period, with their services & products becoming more essential than ever before. Food and parcel delivery companies for example have been two such sectors that have been playing their part by helping to feed the nation and getting those much needed purchases right to people's front doors. These companies have also started recruiting exponentially - Coop for one has planned to add 5,000 people to its national workforce to keep up with demand.
Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op Food, said: "We asked members of the British public who needed jobs to come forward and join forces with us. The response has been overwhelming as people pull together to feed the nation. All of our colleagues are heroes and are doing an amazing job under huge pressure."
Consumers at the moment are turning to online shopping for 'retail therapy' as well as for the essentials. With little else to do for some and limited access to local supermarkets consumers depend on online platforms for their shopping needs. Even after the recent concern over whether COVID-19 can survive on packages, which the WHO has addressed as a low risk of transmission, online retail has remained the UK's preferred means of shopping especially with this new era of 'essential travel only' and encouraged staying at home. Both retailers and consumers alike are realising their potential ability to support the brands they love as well as reach out and help the more vulnerable in their community.
How has COVID-19 affected retail and online sales?
In Kantar's Global COVID-19 Barometer conducted in March of this year, their results showed that 32% of global consumers expected their share of online shopping to increase even more past the pandemic.
Joakim Gavelin, found of Detail Online added: "Right now, there's huge potential for brand owners to increase online sales in 2020. [Kantar's report] tells us that the change in consumer behaviour that many expected to take three to four years is happening in a few months. To be a winner in this you need to have good control of your products online as you would at a physical retailer".
Now has never been a better time to expand your small business to sell online. The immediacy, personalisation and ease of use online shopping platforms can provide are currently unmatched by many high street retailers, as many consumers buy from less popular brands. Combined with consumers growing concern over their buying carbon footprint, many are turning to smaller companies that use carbon-neutral delivery services or sustainable packaging.
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