Published on August 26th, 2020 | by The GC Team1
GC Comment: Just go out (or stay in) and do what you think (or you are told) is best – use your common sense
In a month where we’ve reported the high of a “retail bounce back” (+3.6% in July), the low of a new record drop in UK GDP (-20.4%), and the retail industry’s rush to the top of the job losses leader board (32,725 jobs lost, overtaking the aviation industry’s 30,675), we do at least have a clear message from the country’s leadership.
That message is: “We have no idea what’s happening, and no competence to deal with it even if we did. Just go out (or stay in) and do what you think (or you are told) is best. Use your common sense. I’m away on my holidays now, so if anybody asks, it’s not my fault.”
“With the dangerous Winter season on its way and nobody leading a coherent strategy – it’s hard to marshal the facts”
The electrical retail industry, and SMEs in general, are used to being, at best, left to their own devices and at worst suffering disproportionate taxes, rates and rents, so knowing what’s happening and what to do about it is second nature. But with so much that’s unclear – with sporadic resurgence of infections, intermittent local lockdowns, individual UK countries setting (and changing) their own rules, the Job Retention Scheme winding down, the dangerous Winter season on its way and nobody leading a coherent strategy – it’s hard to marshal the facts.
The fact that our retail industry has now lost more jobs than aviation is stark enough. But, because it’s reported in the media as a largely “big beasts of the high street” problem, with the likes of M&S, Debenhams, Boots and John Lewis axing thousands of roles, and others, such as Oasis and Warehouse, disappearing from the high street altogether, we must not forget that the entire retail industry is facing more job losses this year; nor that, behind the headlines, profound changes are taking place of which every retailer, big or small, needs to take note. COVID-19 hasn’t necessarily instigated these changes. They were already happening. But the pandemic has amplified and accelerated them.
“John Lewis will become “digital first” as customers increasingly shop online”
John Lewis has been announcing job losses, planned closures of some physical outlets and extensive remodelling of management structures. In effect, much of the back-office function is being outsourced to specialist “trusted partners” who have knowledge and experience of the structures needed for effective online retailing. Some John Lewis colleagues are migrating to these “trusted partners” – on the same employment terms and conditions, and with continuation of service. Chairman Sharon White set out the direction of travel with some clarity in a letter to employees, saying John Lewis will become “digital first” as customers increasingly shop online. With customers shopping in very different ways, the young in particular, and the pandemic accelerating the importance of digital, she said, John Lewis is expected to be a 60% online retailer, from 40% pre-COVID-19, and Waitrose to rise above 20%, from 5%.
“The pandemic accelerated a shift in customer behaviour towards online shopping – we saw five years’ change in five weeks”
If any proof were needed that things are happening at some pace, online electricals retailer AO has just announced a recruitment drive to fill 650 new vacancies. The reason for this rapid expansion? Founder and Chief Executive John Roberts explained: “The pandemic accelerated a shift in customer behaviour towards online shopping – we saw five years’ change in five weeks. We now have the opportunity to make AO a habit that lasts for our new customers. We’re investing to cement the change and prepare for our next phase of growth which includes creating hundreds of new, high-quality jobs for a diverse range of talented people.”
Five years’ change in five weeks. You may not have room for 650 new employees in your organisation, but at whatever scale you’re operating, making a serious investment in online infrastructure looks like a sound survival measure.
“What are you running here: a country or an amusement arcade?”
We don’t know yet whether Boris Johnson’s breezily named “whack-a-mole” strategy will work, or how many more sudden local lockdowns we will have to face. It does appear, though, that his new version of the game involves playing blindfold with no mallet. What are you running here: a country or an amusement arcade?
There’s always the pub if you need a bit of leisure to ponder. It’s a scientific fact that alcohol makes people more careful, more socially responsible and much better at judging distances.