How UK Retailers Can Thrive in 2021


It goes without saying at this point that retailers are coming off of a very difficult year in 2020. While some companies operating primarily online were able to salvage business, and the holiday season brought a boost across the retail sector, overall numbers were down, and disastrously so. As we ease into 2021 though, expectations are improving. Citing numerous different protections and estimations, Retail Gazette recently presented an overall cautiously optimistic picture. It appears that most people eyeing the retail sector anticipate at least modest recovery (even if 2021 numbers ends up being lower than those of 2019).

This is excellent news, but it will still be up to the retailers themselves to take advantage of the return of consumer activity. And in this vein, there are a few specific efforts likely to help many businesses in this sector thrive amidst a 2021 recovery.


Leveraging Data

The first step, for those businesses that have the capability to do so, will be to take full advantage of data and AI. Our own look at Infor not long ago spoke to how AI is being applied as a “smart” solution that helps retail companies make the right decisions based on their internal data. This is really an idea that retailers need to be exploring and taking advantage of regardless of COVID-19 and the (hopefully) coming recovery. But particularly now, when so many businesses have so little margin for error, making sound use of data is very important. In everything from managing inventory, to serving customers, to handling finances, a data-driven approach helps to eliminate errors and give rise to successful strategies.


Make Stores Safe

For retailers that are looking to reopen brick-and-mortar stores, there’s no overstating the importance of developing safe environments. This means everything from providing hand sanitiser, to setting up social distancing and shielded areas, to enabling contactless payment — all of which will help customers to feel safe and secure shopping in person. And while the hope is that these measures aren’t necessary for too much longer, there’s something to be said for keeping them in place for a while longer even if and when COVID-19 ceases to be a major threat. People have developed new habits and new concerns, and safe store environments will help to put them at ease even in a post-COVID era.


Running Sales

Some of the most successful retailers to date during COVID have been those that were able to organise versatile responses and cater to customer needs. The Very Group is a helpful example, having brought in £2bn in revenue for the first time despite the pandemic. This was largely thanks to skyrocketing online visits for the company, but also had to do with what the company offered its digital customers. And beyond expansive, multi-faceted inventory, these offerings included seemingly countless deals that, naturally, appealed to consumers in difficult financial situations. Even entering 2021, a list posted by Groupon spoke to just how many different types of sales Very runs on a regular basis, ensuring that customers can always find a discount for this or that. Now, we understand that many smaller retailers aren’t equipped to use this strategy to the same extent. Nevertheless, running (and publicising) sales is a good way to develop and retain customer loyalty, particularly when many consumers will be seeking good deals.


Continue to Emphasise Delivery

For those stores with the ability to do it, ecommerce shopping and delivery should be emphasised even as we emerge from the COVID crisis. We all hope for an anticipate a time when consumers can return to the high street and browse through stores, and it’s likely that at some point in 2021 this will be our reality once more. But to get to that point, continue to serve more cautious customers, and generally adapt to the time, retailers need to prioritise delivery options anyway. For now, it’s a matter of safety and convenience. Moving forward though, it is also, as City AM called it, “a moment of brand activation.” Effective delivery services that cater to customer needs and help to convey information and build relationships rather than simply sell products can go a long way toward boosting a company’s reputation.

Each retailer will face different challenges and opportunities in the year ahead. These strategies will be helpful across the spectrum, however, and may just help some struggling businesses to start growing once more.