COVID-19 hit retailers hard last year.
Circuit Breakers / Movement Control Orders & lockdowns in general forced shops all over the world to close for a number of months. Post-lockdown — social distancing requirements and income uncertainty reduced discretionary purchases initially and impacted retailers’ takings at the till.
In Singapore, there was some temporary financial respite with retailers (excluding supermarkets) receiving the highest tier of salary support from the Government, coupled with a small rental rebate (which hopefully retailers received…). This helped to mitigate some costs.
However, recovery ultimately depends on demand and topline, to which there is considerable headwind:
- Retailers that rely on tourist traffic — Vaccinations have started globally, but there is no certainty when international leisure travel will resume.
- Heartland retailers — the accelerated push to digital has resulted in less footfall as ‘stay-at-home’ families embraced e-commerce — which was more convenient and posed less exposure risk at the height of the pandemic last year. This greatly benefitted the marketplaces like Shopee and Lazada, as well as e-commerce enablers like Shopify and POS providers, and the e-commerce habit has stuck, post-lockdowns.
Some retailers pivoted quickly and opened digital stores on above-marketplaces to capture a share of growing online spend.
But it also takes resources to stand out in a crowded marketplace, especially if the retailer’s brand equity is not strong. Which is probably a reason why part of the household handouts from the Singapore Government’s Budget 2021 was given in the form of CDC vouchers, which can only be spent in heartland shops (see graphic beneath).
Embracing e-commerce (and m-comerce) is the only way forward for retailers.
For more tech-savvy retailers, the transition may not be all that hard. The Singapore Government has also offered a Digital Resilience Bonus to support retailers in making that change — through generous subsidies to adopt digital solutions.
On the ground, we find that many businesses do need a bit more than just the subsidy, especially if there was no digitalisation at all in the retailer pre-Covid. From basic things like how to operate a POS for cashless payments, and more involved endeavours like how to set up the e-commerce presence and link up inventory management and accounting, to working with delivery platforms and supply chain — all these require new processes and procedures, which need to be properly documented so staff can be trained and learn how to perform their transformed job roles in our COVID-normal.
An effective way is to set up Digital SOPs, which can be stored on the cloud and easily disseminated to staff across the retailers’ multiple branches, accessed on the staff’s smartphones.
Simple procedural 101s, ‘how-to’ guides which the retailer can easily set up, and serve as important references for staff. And if procedures change, just edit the information online, and it’s now current when staff next access.
The road ahead is uncertain for retailers, but the spirit of community remains important for us who grow up with ‘the shops’.
Yet it is important for our Retail Business Orders to acknowledge that the way forward is digital, and to get our workforce equipped with the knowledge to operate the retail business in the digital economy.
This is not the future, but is in fact the present.