Threats to the way that we all shop and use retail have been well identified in recent years with the surge in online shopping but, post Covid, the sector is going to have to transform dramatically and Chamber will play its role in helping to make that happen

When the island’s population had to arrange essential deliveries during lockdown, many discovered a whole new way to shop and food retailers have noticed the difference. The more agile providers were able to launch delivery offers for food, drink and even gardening items though social media and links to websites but the need to change business models rapidly was far more problematic for larger organisations with more complex structures.

The ongoing effect for food retail has been palpable with many people here continuing to order online, while others have changed the way that they shop. Shopping less often but buying more is a noticeable ongoing effect. That result, sadly though, is not being felt in the wider retail sector where footfall is struggling and the industry is facing a dramatic sea change. 

The British Retail Consortium calls is “A once in a lifetime challenge” as the far reaching impact of Covid is felt.

Guernsey Chamber puts Retail front and centre in our focus, recognising that thousands of local people are employed in the sector and it is a major contributor to the economy. Accepting the data which shows that growth of online shopping will continue to rise exponentially, our business organisation will be helping the sector to identify areas of strength and investigating broad themes to keep the High Street healthy.

As the BRC emphasises, Retail is a people business and that makes training and engagement with customers crucially important. As physical shopping becomes ever-more an “experience” rather than a price-led exercise, retail teams need to understand and interact in a way which makes people want to repeat the experience.

With that awareness in mind, Chamber incorporates efforts by providers such as the Guernsey Institute and Bright Futures to enable training (or retraining) in this area and to highlight the huge diversity of roles within the industry. As Louise Misselke, College Principal, recently told a Chamber gathering, there is so much more to the sector than standing at a till. It needs financial expertise, HR skills, logistical understanding and event and marketing insight to name but a few. While entry level salaries are often low, many organisations offer a chance to progress and earn more. ‘For an organisation to survive this pandemic it will require its people to be at their best. They will need resilience, agility and to have the exceptional leadership skills required to manage through continuous change,’ says the BRC. Chamber is adding to that perspective a need to remove layers of red tape and planning challenges around change of use to make our Town easy to occupy – whether as a retailer, resident or corporate organisation.

As the sector inevitably shrinks, it becomes crucial for space to be available for those who DO want to make use of it and encouraging a larger resident population in the main streets to add a dynamic feel, economic health and all of the activity associated with living in a particular area, including cafe culture, impulse shopping and associated services could be a pivotal part of that long term survival. “Bricks and mortar” retail is most at risk as people have got used to having their purchases delivered to their door and have enjoyed the ability to shop at any time which suits them online.

Forecasts suggest that “click and buy” options with local delivery and easy returns will need to be part of the retail offer. Other research also points to retailers changing their opening hours to reflect the times that people want to use the leisure aspect of this activity and wander around to buy on impulse. It may be that later opening and staying open beyond conventional work hours, coupled with eating options in the area, is at the heart of retail experience,

Financial forecasters expect a significant change in behaviour going forward. ‘People are buying household and electrical items online and the more discretionary spend around clothing, footwear and furniture is going to take time to come back,’ said one consultant.

Chamber will continue to strongly promote the “Buy Local” message going forward, together with assistance for training, insight and promotional activity for the sector and lobbying for the removal of red tape and faster response on planning matters.

Tuesday 6th October

Customer Services Advice Lunch & Learn FREE for all

Chamber is delighted to be hosting this CI Customer Service Awards insight and launch event, kindly sponsored by Skipton International