Innovative Changes of UK Retailers in Response to the Corona Crisis

Innovative Changes of UK Retailers in Response to the Corona Crisis

Innovative Changes of UK Retailers in Response to the Corona Crisis

UK retailers have made innovative changes in response to COVID-19. We have taken a closer look at how they try to get customers back through the door and long term changes they have to make.

As the pandemic starts to affect different countries at a different pace, various countries are starting to return to a new sense of normality and businesses are about to reopen. Traditional retailers are trying to utilise digital tools to enhance the customer experience and to manage daily operations. Even though the UK seems to be one of the pioneers in eCommerce compared to its current EU neighbour countries it has been challenged by the pandemic which forced businesses to turn into digital operations faster than expected

What have UK retailers done to mitigate the effects of COVID-19?

1.Traditional Retailers offering large discounts to clear old stock

Due to the lockdown, online sales surged to a 10 year high – up to an incredible +23.8% year on year according to the IMRG  Capgemini Online Retail Sales Index (IMRG Source).

Traditional UK Fashion retailers are offering large discounts as the pressure mounts to clear old stock. UK Fashion retailer Marks and Spencers has announced a new “Rainbow Sale” which offers customers at least 50% of certain items. The rainbow has become a symbol for hope for the NHS across the UK and Marks and Spencers has committed to contribute 10% of takings to NHS Charities under this campaign.

On the other side of the coin, Boohoo a Pure-Player eCommerce fashion business has seen profits and sales rise as people shop from home. The online retailer has also put aside £200m for acquisitions that may arise following the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional retailers such as the fashion retailer Primark are expected to also offer huge discounts once the UK lockdown eases

2.Changes in the market structure of the Commerce Industry.

The outbreak of the pandemic did not only make customers changing their buying behaviour but have also had a dramatic impacr on the entire market structure within commerce. As competition rules were relaxed during the start of the lockdown we saw manufactures and retailers sharing supply chains and collaborating to meet the surge in demand. This new way of working will further increase the shift to digitalisation of the supply chain which will help organisations react quicker to crisis and ultimately consumer buying behaviours. This may result in smaller businesses partnering up or larger businesses to widen their product range siginificantly so that customers can get all they need in one place. Mariano Gomide de Faria, Co-Founder & CEO of VTEX  has mentioned this shift towards a new market structure which he calls ‘unified commerce’ (April 2020).

3. The rise of the Digital Supply Chain

Whilst in moments of crisis it becomes evident that the priority is to create fast and reliable supply chains. Covid-19 also shines a spotlight on weak and fragile supply chains.

By utilising more digital tools in a supply chain, retailers and manufacturers are more easily able to communicate across their networks and implement changes quicker and in a more responsive way. Supply chains have become very sophisticated and and crucial for the competitiveness between organisations. Whilst being global and interlinked they can be impacted by a wide range of risks. The pandemic was an underestimated risk as it forced global boarder closures which ‘cut-off’ many supply chains and businesses have been put under the pressure of uncertainty, not knowing when they could be receiving the next supplies. Along with the uncertainty both producers and retailers have experienced how important a strong communication system (Digital Supply Chain) can be.


New Digital Supply chains will be more resilient and offer a more agile response paired with a better risk management strategy compared to traditional supply chains. It will help to build a supply-network and more efficient ways of communication. This will also optimise supply chains to the actual market / end-customers. Retailers will be able to set up different online shopping and delivery methods to accommodate immobile shoppers.

The rise in digital supply chains will also advance the need for 5G and other information and technological advances to ensure that the transition to DNS’s will be quicker.  A recent report by Deloitte highlighted the need for Digital Supply Networks and how they will be key in an organisations risk management strategy: (Deloitte Supply Chain management and Covid-19)

 “Leveraging advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, and 5G, DSNs are designed to anticipate and meet future challenges….From a risk management perspective, the key will be to build a “resilient” supply chain that not only seeks to reduce risks but also is prepared to quickly adjust and recover from any unanticipated supply chain disruptions that occur.”

4. The rise of Big Data –  A digital rabbit hole?

We have seen innovative ways that Big Data has been used and analysed in response to this virus and in relation to consumer behaviour. The UK government has been using Google Map Travel Information to understand the behaviour of people and their travel patterns. This analysis has bought to the forefront analysis to track the virus in real-time. Whilst the UK government partners with Big Tech it does raise privacy concern questions also.

Big Data also comes into play more so as retailers gain even more information on user behaviour in store. Sainsbury’s who launched the Smart Shop System which is a mobile till-free in store experience via handset have experienced a surge in use as consumers avoid handling cash and minimise interactions. CEO Mike Coupe recently said:

 “We have now rolled out Smart Shop into all of our supermarkets and at the end of the year our self participation in our handset stores was around 18%. Now clearly it has moved a lot further forward more recently. And last but by no means least we are joining together our digital proposition and our real estate and increasingly digitising all of our properties whether that is Nectar, whether it is the bank and Argos Financial Services, whether it is Smart Shop and also introducing universal search.”

Big Data is going to be increasingly used and analysed to explore consumer behaviour. A recent study by EY (EY Index) stated that 53% of consumers of the index would make their personal data available if it helped to monitor and track and infection cluster. They also identified that the analysis and sharing of data could help shape new business models respond to customers’ needs more than ever.


Whilst many analysts have predicted a return to normal shopping behaviours towards the end of the year, it would be naive to be assume that retailers and commerce businesses will return to the old ways of operations. Along with the rise in Big Data, and the efficienct and rapit digital transformation of many commerce businesses, market structures are going to change. Whilst we all prepare and hope for a quick recovery, we know that companies will face a very different future post Covid-19.

This is also a time for Digital Professionals to innovate and apply their own creative thinking to these new and often fast changing scenarios.