Online sales rise as customers adapt to ‘the new norm’

08 April 2020, 21:11 PM
  • As customers and businesses become accustomed to Coronavirus regulations, retailers are carefully considering the future says Rachael Perrett

“There are some green shoots”
As the panic subsides and customers become better versed in new shopping procedures and restrictions, businesses are carefully monitoring the Coronavirus curve in the UK as they wonder what the future has in store.

But for most retailers, as the dust settles, operations are becoming smoother.

“There are some green shoots,” John Shepherd, managing director of Partridges, said. “Sales in the last few days have risen over last year by nearly 10%. The better weather did create a slightly better mood. Many staff who self-isolated over the past two weeks are returning to work, too.

“Supplies of essential products are increasing again. Our distancing policies and procedures are working more efficiently. Online orders and local deliveries are running more smoothly and providing a good source of revenue.

“But, as the government says, it is too early to think we have turned the corner. In this respect, this week will be a critical week.”

“We will continue to be creative”
For Norfolk Deli, staffed by a husband-and-wife duo, despite the drastic decline in footfall in their established shop online sales have skyrocketed. What’s more, being a small business means being able to adapt quickly.

“We are only serving people at the door, which has its challenges as well as its blessings,” Mark Kacary, owner of The Norfolk Deli, said.

“However, what is saving us is the fact that after several years of my wife quipping that I was sitting at the computer fiddling with the website, I have been vindicated. Our online sales have gone up somewhere between 300% and 400%. In total, 95% of all revenues are happening online with daily/weekly sales being pretty much on par with last year’s sales.

“We have been using social media a lot to promote our nationwide delivery service for Norfolk products, as well as our home delivery service (which nobody ever used, even though it has been there for the last four years). I spent a day to bolster our home deliveries section, which now means people can buy (currently) 80% of everything we have in the shop online. The remaining 20% is being added daily.

“Eggs aren’t a problem for us as I drive to a local free-range egg farm (which I have been doing for the last six years); we collect the eggs directly from the conveyor belt and the farmer keeps all the super large double-yolkers for us, which we then include in our egg boxes. Flour and pasta were an issue, but some of our local suppliers have been going to the local flour mills and suddenly people who used to walk past our shop are suddenly seeing us in a new light.

“What interests me is how many people will carry on using us once this is all over? How many people will forget that we’ve been able to deliver within 30 minutes of receiving an order whereas supermarkets have been unable to provide delivery slots for weeks.

“We’re busy, we’re being creative, we will keep coming up with new ideas, and because we’re small, unlike a supermarket, we’ll be able to make these changes within hours if not days.”

“Just as we have adapted, customer habits have, too”
“The first two weeks of the Coronavirus crisis were an exhausting and worrying whirlwind of change,” Clare Jackson, co-owner of Slate, said. “Every day brought new risks to be addressed, and new procedures to be developed. Already that feels like a lifetime ago.”

New procedures for Slate have meant adapting the business model to minimise costs, maximise sales, and seek available government support.

“In-store we have sought to offer customers the products they are looking for and enable them to shop safely. We have expanded our product range to include provisions such as milk, eggs and frozen ready-meals; we have also introduced some basic lines of existing products such as pasta.

“Just as we have adapted, customer habits have, too. New routines are being adopted in terms of shopping times and placing orders.

“Away from the shop, online sales have spiked as people heed government advice to stay at home. For a long time, we have wanted to see a lift in the volume of cheese we sell online, however we never wanted it to be under such dreadful circumstances. We are extremely grateful to have our website and dispatch procedures in place to enable us to make online sales and send cheese nationwide by overnight courier.”

Like many companies across the country, whilst making immediate changes that reflect the current situation, Clare is also thinking long-term.

“Government support is vital to the future of our business. The timing of this crisis is particularly difficult for us given the seasonal nature of our sales pattern. We were just coming off three quiet months in terms of footfall and whilst our sales were running well against target, we were looking forward to Easter and the school holiday visitors to boost our cash coffers. We have applied for a government small business grant and entered staff into the furlough scheme. We wait to see what cash will be forthcoming and when – hopefully it will be soon as we cannot wait long for the repayment of staff payroll. Timely government support is critical to the emergency business model we have adopted.

“Whilst we feel positive and energetic in the short-term, the severity of this crisis must never be forgotten in terms of the health of loved ones and the health of small businesses such as Slate on the British high street.”

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