Three ways the coronavirus pandemic will change store teams forever

  • Three ways the coronavirus pandemic will change store teams forever

    Covid-19 has stimulated massive societal change during the extraordinary period of global lockdown. One outcome is the revelation of how critical – and valued - store teams are, especially in the ‘essential’ sectors of grocery and pharmacy.

    Supermarket employees have dealt heroically with panicked, frustrated shoppers, shelves in need of relentless replenishment, and aisles and checkouts needing constant cleaning. These teams have stepped up to the tricky requirement of policing the two-metre ‘social distancing’ rule in queues, and to educate and reassure shoppers as new government guidelines come in.

    Just turning up for work – potentially exposing themselves to a virus the world is fighting against – has earned these people, and the brands they work for, huge admiration and gratitude.

    Transformation of the store team

    The situation has been dire, but it has highlighted retail employees’ great work and worth. It also promises to transform the store team forever, accelerating and amplifying changes already happening within the industry. Here are three ways working in stores will be different, post-Covid-19.

    1) Highly valued – and with a more pronounced purpose

    Not surprisingly supermarket and pharmacy workers were classified as ‘key workers’ by the UK government from 20th March – rightly putting them on a par with medical and emergency professionals in terms of keeping the country going. Press coverage of the efforts being made by delivery drivers and those working in online fulfilment centres and stores also showed retail teams in a highly favourable light. This will have given those working in the sector a lasting sense of purpose and engagement in the important work they do.

    Post-Covid-19, these employees are likely to enjoy continued respect from the public, with shoppers more enlightened about the value they bring to society and the economy. Trade body, the BRC, was already campaigning for the sector to strive for 'better jobs' in retail, and the pandemic could become a catalyst for such a sea change in attitudes towards working in retail. The supermarkets themselves have championed their staff, with Morrisons and Asda, for instance, quick to make guarantees on sick pay – including to those staff self-isolating rather than ill. The likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Aldi have been recruiting many more staff to keep stores stocked, manned and able to home deliver. The drive to automate could well be on hold for the short-term, while the sector re-assesses the value of its people, and their incredible ability to keep the show going when disaster strikes.

    2) Able to adapt to radical changes in customer behaviour

    As retail realigns to the omnichannel, or ‘new retail’ model, we have seen digital services blending with physical stores, allowing customer to shop in new and highly convenient ways. This has changed the day-to-day work of store teams – with many employees now using smart devices to facilitate payment and ‘endless aisle’ ordering, or arranging fulfilment to suit individual needs. Some, including John Lewis, have shifted in-store staff to advise online customers, with staff offering ‘virtual’ store services online via webcalls and apps.

    Before the crisis, consumers were craving more personalised interactions with retailers, asking for their product choices and delivery options to be tailored to their interests and needs. It’s expected that post-crisis this will be amplified further. Why? Because a broader mix of consumers have been forced into ordering from home and embracing ecommerce for everything from rowing machines to skincare products. Once able to, they’ll be keen to reconnect with the brands that have helped them through the crisis. We come full circle back to the need to impress at all touchpoints, with a joined up view of customers and stock, and an ability for staff to adapt and embrace new skills with the right supporting technology, as customer needs continue to evolve.

    3) Providing enriched experiences for resurgent shoppers

    After weeks of social isolation, shoppers will surge back into shops when doors reopen. A trend for ‘'revenge spending’ on luxury brands has already been spotted in Asia. In Europe the expectation is that pent-up demand to enjoy physical browsing will ramp up the resurgent interest in brick and mortar retail we had seen before the Covid storm.


    According to Kantar’s study recently, beauty therapy, eating out and shopping were what Brits were most looking forward to, after lockdown. “The thought of shopping in retail outlets, trying on and buying new outfits, is far more appealing [than online],” says Kantar. “This is good news for high street fashion retailers with some of the sensory experience of traditional shopping being essential to fashion-conscious consumers.”

    Experiential retail was already a trend , but post-Covid the sheer joy of shopping will be reignited, requiring store teams to think creatively, engage sensitively with returning store visitors, and meet high expectations around these longed-for in-store journeys. On-site events, partnerships with arts and charity organisations, healthy living initiatives and community involvement have all been stimulated in retail during the pandemic. Once it’s subsided, employees could well see their involvement in worthwhile corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects continue.

    Playing a role in rebuilding society post-coronavirus

    We aren’t yet sure what the ‘new normal’ will be. When the full economic impact of coronavirus becomes clearer, many retailers are likely to be under pressure to justify headcounts and prove ROI on retail employees’ wage bills.

    For those urgently needing to recoup lost revenues, it will help to equip sales teams with the technological tools and training they need to unlock value, continue to feel empowered and truly able meet heightened customer expectations.