By Peter Martin  |  Feb 24, 2021

No way back from the digital world

You don’t need to be clairvoyant to spot the major trends that are going to reshape our business landscape. Most are already out there in clear sight.

The news that on-line fashion retailer Asos has this week snapped up the Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge brands in a £295m deal with the failed Arcadia group, which envisages all its 71 stores closing, is not only a sign of the continuing challenges for traditional retail and the high street, but of the digital-driven, on-demand world inhabited by today’s consumer.

Drive down the M1, when you can, and you’ll see that the only growth industry in the part of the Midlands I live in is warehousing. Delivery rules our lives. If we want something, anything, we can order it quickly and easily on any device that happens to be at hand – and we expect it to arrive promptly with no fuss.
They say it takes six weeks to develop a habit. We’ve now been in lockdown, or some form of pandemic restrictions, for almost a year now, so to expect the public to go back to the way they were and abandon newly acquired routines is hardly realistic. It is estimated that that there were four years of e-commerce acceleration within the first three months of lockdown alone.

Yes, consumers are undoubtedly missing going out and are eager to get back to the pub or restaurant. Latest research from CGA clearly shows that well over half (59%) say they can’t wait to go out again, with any many as 80% of adults hoping to get back within a few weeks of hospitality reopening.

But the experience better be good. For many lockdown has been little short of a prison sentence. But there are others that have quite enjoyed being at home, eating better, sampling food from restaurants they may never dreamed of going to, sipping rose in their newly manicured garden – and getting most of what they need delivered to their door.

Another piece of research just carried reveals that two thirds of consumers celebrating Valentine’s Day this year will order their special meal, including drink, from a favourite restaurant or pub. Is that good or bad news? It’s good that they remember how great a night out can be and want to recreate it. The flipside is that they also know they can have a good time at home – sourced from practically anywhere in the country.

The challenge is to reinforce that first image and deliver an exceptional welcome when they do cross the threshold again. It means understanding those new lifestyles – and enhancing rather fighting newly adopted preferences. It also means embracing the digital world wholeheartedly.

Many operators are well down that route, staying in touch with their customer base through social media, through delivery, click’n’collect and meal kit operations, building sophisticated CRM systems to drive an increasingly personalised approach to marketing. Omnichannel looks destined to be a word of the year.

Anyone listening to the bosses of Burger King and Five Guys on MCA’s The Conversation this past couple of weeks will know of the advances those two quick service businesses have made in digital engagement to provide slick, efficient service to customers who expect nothing less.

OK, a restaurant or pub experience may be more about relaxed hospitality, but the wrap-around better be fast and error free, from booking to payment to customer feedback. It’s no good having on-line click’n’collect ordering, if it’s only available 9-to-5. Yes, I’ve just stumbled across that phenomenon.

Digital adoption is just one aspect of life that the pandemic has accelerated. The problem for all businesses is that it is one of the many shifts in the landscape that need to be factored into the 2021 and 2022 business plans. Open up the laptop.