1 Feb 2021
Five positive signposts on the road to retail recovery in 2021
The data presented in nightly news broadcasts is a strange hybrid of bad news and good news. Of course, we have the all too familiar grim updates on hospitalisations and deaths as a result of covid. But we also now have a counter-narrative – the numbers of people vaccinated who can look forward to a fear-free life again. We may be in the midst of a lockdown, but hope is not only on the horizon but in front of our eyes and shortly to be in our arms. The best of times and the worst of times.
Retailers are also facing a mixture of challenging and hopeful data. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) recently revealed sales growth overall falling by 0.3% in a year dominated by the Covid-19 impact – the worst annual change since the BRC began collating figures in 1995. Yet this is hardly surprising, with the Government forcing retailers to close. Unlike in the midst of other recessions, we can be confident an unprecedented bounceback is looming. A recent KPMG/Ipsos study points to a sales growth of up to 3% for 2021, despite the huge challenges in the first two quarters. Indeed there are several signals that point to a swift route to recovery in 2021.
Weathered and tested
The resilience of retail has been a remarkable success story of 2020 in the face of continuing huge challenges. Throughout the pandemic, retail has been written off only to bounce back whenever it has been allowed to trade. This is evidenced by the figures for lockdown two. According to the ONS, the headline figure for retail sales volumes in November during the second lockdown were 3.8% lower than in October, ending six months of growth. However, the drop was smaller than analysts had expected and, remarkably, sales remained 2.6% above February’s level in the year to November. This was all the more impressive given lockdown forced many shops to close during the month.
Throughout the past 12 months, retailers have had to adapt their trading at short notice, whether closing altogether or introducing a variety of safety measures and still enticing customers to spend. They have also needed to embrace new ways of trading, from click and collect to virtual shop floors to having sales experts in call centres rather than in person. This experience and ability to weather these storms and still attract customers mean retailers will be in much better shape when the good times return.
A shot in the arm for consumer confidence
Retail has always needed and relied on a confident consumer to sustain itself. You feel hopeful about the future and you are more likely to splash out. Over the past few months, we have had a perfect storm of negativity. Daily charts showing exponential infection and death rates highlighting the problem now, with no end in sight creating a feeling of hopelessness. This has created a mental health crisis to add to the immediate public health crisis. However, just as the confidence has been sapped by one thing – the coronavirus, so the cure can be the vaccine – a literal shot in the arm for consumer confidence. Of course, millions have been negatively financially impacted by the crisis, but due to the furlough scheme, many have been protected in a way that hasn’t happened in previous recessions.
Indeed this was the analysis by a KPMG/Ipsos retail think tank, which said retail should be able to look to a brighter second half of 2021. Pent-up savings, demand, a more confident consumer and a successful vaccine roll out all point to a strong rebound. However, it also points to some consumer behaviours changing during the pandemic, with performance varying across different categories.
To read the full article please visit The Drum.