2020 saw the Covid pandemic arrive and cause chaos among all manner of industries in the UK and across the world. Britain’s retail sector suffered the biggest drop in the total volume of sales since records were begun.

In the USA the term ‘retail apocalypse’ is being used widely to describe the fallout from the pandemic and its subsequent effects. It is predicted that over the next few years, around 80,000 retail units will close across the states. This will bring an end to many shopping malls too as people choose different ways to shop.

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Not everything is doom and gloom though, and there are some options for retailers and brands to improve their financial positions and increase sales. Some businesses may even come out of Covid stronger or in a healthy position depending on how they were set up before it began. 

What is the state of British retail now?

There are many reports that the British high street is starting to look a lot healthier again. While there are many people who may carry on with online purchases, many others want to get back to traditional stores.

The Guardian reported that retail sales jumped over 5% as Covid restrictions started to be eased in April 2021. This is a boon to the retail sector in the UK and it is hoped that this is a sign of the high street re-emerging.

However, many retailers are still struggling and are nursing losses and poor revenue from previous lockdowns. While food and beverage retailers actually grew in 2020, non-essential businesses suffered badly. 

Some of the businesses that were well prepared for the surprise of Covid had made changes to their supply chain, online business, and collection software. 

What is vertical integration?

One of the ways that some retailers turned out to be Covid-proof, or at least partly protected, was due to vertical integration.

This method of conducting business works best for companies that retail their own brand rather than a retailer selling many different labels. Consider brands such as Nike, Gucci, H&M, and Apple, although ecommerce businesses can also use vertical integration.

Vertical integration is where a business owns more than one level of its supply chain, so for instance when it comes to ecommerce you could look at Disney+ or Netflix. Disney owns their streaming platform and they own the product being shown on it which means they don’t have to pay out any rights. Netflix realised there were bigger profits to be had by producing their own material instead of licensing other peoples.

In retail, a brand that owns their retail locations, owns the suppliers, controls distribution, and oversees more of the processes than normal retailers, would be said to have vertical integration. They would also have been in a good position when the pandemic hit. 

How does vertical integration help brands?

By overseeing more processes, quality, and not relying on other suppliers and distributors, a retail brand would have much more control and the supply chain will be more efficient.

Retailers don’t have to worry about quality slipping or distributors going bankrupt as they would control the supply line. However, vertical integration does require a large amount of investment. Certain types of software can also be used to help businesses thrive, especially during the last year. 

Using collection software to increase cash flow

While this wouldn’t affect all retailers, it would help brands that supply retail outlets. One of the hardest things of last year would have been having regular cash flow as retailers were forced to lockdown and some closed permanently. 

The pandemic has shown how important it is for businesses to get their invoices paid quickly and automated systems and collection software can help. Businesses that use debtor management and collection software can speed up payments and free up time too.

Many suppliers will spend too much time chasing after unpaid invoices when they could be concentrating on other areas of their business. By using debtor management software, invoices will be sent out on time and a line of communication with the customer established. 

Through regular communication and reminder letters or overdue invoices, payment is encouraged. It has been shown that using these systems can reduce the time it takes for invoices to be paid, meaning suppliers can continue operating. 

Retailers who use ecommerce are also in a good position

Vertical integration and integrated collection systems can help brands and retailers, but ecommerce is also a major benefit for helping a business to thrive today.

Ecommerce is growing at a rapid rate, and the pandemic pushed millions of consumers online, many of them first time buyers. It is believed that 70% of British consumers have said that they will return to the high street, but many will continue shopping online.

Any retailer that ignores ecommerce is letting a potentially huge sales opportunity slip by. However, there are plenty of reasons for shoppers to return to the high street as the internet cannot supply the same experience as land-based stores can. 

Brands should use experiential retail to thrive

Shopping isn’t just for making purchases, for many, it is part of their leisure time and browsing in stores is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or morning. Retailers have realised this and many started to make visiting stores more of an experience before the pandemic struck.

Due to Covid hitting the industry, there were fears that the experiential retail trend would end, but it may be more important now than ever. While vertical integration can give control to the retailer and collection software can help suppliers get paid, stores still need to get feet through the door. 

Experiential retail is where the store or brand delivers something more than just the usual shopping experience. Apple was one of the first retailers to use this technique and they used a simple method. Instead of leaving products on shelves or running with the keyboards hidden as Comet may have done, Apple encouraged consumers to enter their stores and use the products live.

Make-up counters in stores have done a similar thing in the past where interested shoppers could get makeovers or their colours done. Today, retailers are thinking bigger and using technology to bring memorable experiences and photo opportunities to shoppers. 

Summary

It is certainly to be hoped that brands, suppliers, retailers, and the high street, in general, will return to a healthy level of normality soon. Using experiential retail could be a good way for many retailers to entice more people back to land-based establishments, and many shoppers prefer this to the internet.

Although it is desired to see traditional retailers thrive on the high street, they may have to adapt to modern times to do so. 

Vertical integration could help reduce costs and smooth out processes including the supply chain. Cash collection software such as Payt can help suppliers maintain a healthy cash flow and reduce late payments, And, the internet can add new markets to brands and retailers. 

With over 2 billion people buying food, clothes, electronics, and other products online, few retailers can ignore the potentials. Ecommerce could help stores thrive and make sure that Britain retains its normal shopping destinations for years to come.

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