Article:

The retailer’s playbook to surviving COVID-19

31 March 2020

Mark Schiavello , National Leader, Retail
Partner, Corporate Finance
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As the COVID-19 outbreak intensifies across Australia, more stringent measures will be introduced to contain the spread. Australian companies have been told to ‘hibernate’ through the crisis.

But simply waiting out COVID-19 is not an option for retailers. Adaptive business practices are crucial right now. 

Here is what you need to do to survive COVID-19.

Leverage digital channels to keep your audience engaged

With the population in lockdown, people are bored! Internet usage is up 40% and everyone is streaming content. This provides retailers with a unique opportunity to engage with customers.

If you’re in apparel, film a video with styling tips for different body shapes, how to blur your work and weekend wardrobe, or tips for shopping for true investment pieces? 

If the average age of your core customer is 50+, creating some educational webinars teaching people how to shop online will help engagement and conversion. Anything you can do to help debunk online shopping myths around sizing, fit and no returns will get you cut-through.

Now is also the time to take your content off-road and try something new. If you’re a founder, share your own experience of surviving isolation, talk to your customers about how you plan your day. Explore the art of the possible. Customers want to be engaged, particularly as they seek calm in these crazy times.       

Improve inventory turn by leveraging on-line marketplaces

In the immediate term, your clear number one focus should be on converting stock into cash. Right now it’s ok to focus less on margin and more on cash. Leverage online market places that resonate with your core customer group and offer free shipping and free returns to sell stock quickly.

Sure up the supply chain as best you can

Converting stock into cash will help you navigate the next few months, but what about next season?

Supply chains pose a huge challenge for most retailers. Globally, production and distribution centre activity has slowed down significantly (or stopped) due to forced shutdowns. Restrictions on travel networks will create logistical bottlenecks, exacerbating inbound and outbound supply chain obstacles. These constraints may result in stock shortages downstream.

Supply is likely to become the biggest issue for retailers. As a result, all buying teams should focus on ensuring continuity of supply. For the most critical categories, this could mean living with compromises that would normally be unacceptable, such as looser payment terms. 

Ask your landlord for rent relief

With stores in lockdown, retailers should be seeking to reduce lease costs. While smaller tenants will be given some relief as the government moves to impose a short term moratorium on rents, retailers should follow the lead of others and speak to their landlord. 

The key in any rental negotiation is to form a consortium to ensure you are heard. Only by banding together do small and medium size retailers have a chance at getting some sort of fair deal. 

Remember the light on the hill. “We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand”. Australians are in this together and we will come out the other side. 

China’s recovery from the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003 featured a strong rebound in areas where there was pent-up demand, like apparel. While it’s tough going right now, retailers need to be planning for life on the other side – because we will get through this.

Read Mark's original post on LinkedIn.
 

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