It’s the fifth week of our Working From Home Diaries (where has the time gone?) and this week we’re delighted to have a special guest.
Scott Thompson is editor of Retail Technology Innovation Hub, or RTIH, which is one of our favourite retail publications. Launched in 2017, it has now grown to become the leading UK-based newswire and information hub for the global retail technology community and we were very excited to interview Scott to see his take on the current retail environment.
Scott’s WFH Diary
Scott, what role is retail playing in this current lockdown situation?
A hugely important role. Essential retailers are a vital lifeline for Brits during the coronavirus outbreak.
Food and medicine are the most obvious examples, but we also shouldn’t forget electronics and technology being ordered online to support home working, education or entertainment. These retailers are ensuring people can remain connected virtually to friends and family.
What should retailers be doing now to “get it right”?
There are plenty of ‘experts’ sounding off on social media right now about what retailers should be doing to ‘get it right’. And every day I get emails from PRs offering up their clients for comment on what retailers are doing wrong, what they should be doing to ensure survival etc etc. Truth be told, no-one has all the answers.
One thing we can say for certain is that retailers need to remain agile and ensure they are flexible enough to meet the changing needs and habits of their customers, in a safe and efficient manner. Easier said than done, of course.
So much change and innovation has happened to the retail sector in the last few weeks. What trends have you seen emerging?
Dark stores, contactless delivery, curbside pick-up, the increase in the contactless payments limit as retailers try to reduce shoppers’ use of cash.
These really are surreal times we’re living through. As Iceland boss Richard Walker recently commented: “It feels like we have suddenly stepped into a parallel universe, where none of the normal conventions that have framed our lives apply.”
Retailers who are normally the deadliest of competitors have started talking freely to each other, sharing information and ideas, and standing shoulder to shoulder in a combined effort to feed the nation. The government has effectively nationalised the workforce and relaxed some of the normal industry competition rules. DEFRA and the British Retail Consortium are promoting industry co-ordination and co-operation as never seen before.
It would be nice to think that this will continue in a post-coronavirus world, with retailers collaborating on procurement, technology, supply chain and logistics, fulfilment and last mile delivery. I’m not sure this will happen, though.
So do you think retail will ever go “back to normal” or are we about to see a retail revolution?
We can only speculate what the longer-term impact of Covid-19 on retail will be. Only time will tell. As I said earlier, no one has all the answers here.
RTIH recently reported that measures to fight the spread of coronavirus led to the worst decline in UK retail sales on record last month.
Meanwhile, major names have called in administrators, with others facing store closures.
I’m not sure that we will see a revolution, but I do think the coronavirus crisis will speed up the demise of the weakest retailers and physical retail will come back bigger and stronger than before.
I’m looking forward to the days when physical retail brings people together again. The coronavirus has confirmed that bricks and mortar stores remain a hugely important piece of the omnichannel retail puzzle. It has served as a potent reminder of just how much we take for granted the act of shopping and hanging out pre-social distancing.
What’s your current working routine?
I wake up around 6am and feed my cat, Oliver. He gets very grumpy if I don’t feed him immediately. I then make myself a cup of tea and upload a few news stories to Retail Technology Innovation Hub.
I then go for my morning walk. I’m fortunate enough to be self-isolating beside the seaside (Hastings, to be exact), so I get to walk to the beach every day.
When I return home, I start work at around 8.30/9am, work through until lunch then watch some TV for an hour or so and return to action in the early afternoon. I usually clock off around 5ish, although there is so much news to report at the moment, that I often find myself writing articles and planning ahead during the evenings and at weekends.
In terms of the way you work, what do you think the “new normal” will look like?
I’m not sure there will be a massive change in the way that I work!
How do you manage the balance between work and home life? Have there been any challenges?
There were some challenges in the early days of the lockdown. I’m self-isolating with my girlfriend; she’s a primary school teacher so has had her own challenges, co-ordinating work for the parents of her pupils, dealing with parent enquiries etc.
I was initially working seven days a week. I love my job and it’s a great feeling to see Retail Technology Innovation Hub growing rapidly. But it’s also important to have downtime. That has become easier to manage over the past couple of weeks as I’ve become more used to life under lockdown.
Speaking of which, what’s been a positive thing about life in lockdown?
I think just appreciating the little things in life and the things we normally take for granted. I can’t wait to go to the cinema again, for instance, and go to a restaurant. Also taking time to have conversations with shop workers and neighbours.
How do you unwind?
Watching movies and my favourite TV shows, reading, listening to music, a glass of wine or two at the weekends.
Finally, what are your top 3 lockdown essential non-essentials?
Yorkshire tea. Watching movies. Binge-watching Netflix shows with my girlfriend.
Next week, we’ll be bringing you more insights from across the retail and hospitality sectors.