Professor of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, George Saridakis, makes the case for the flip in the “status quo” in consumer behaviour over the years, a matter amplified by the impact of the lockdown on the high street.
Small shops have technologically modernised over the years, whilst many have been established during the e-commerce era, reaching a larger pool of customer and improving customer satisfaction. Integrating new technologies with marketing strategies, to promote a better quality of products and services and highlighting customer feedback, have also allowed them to be competitive.
COVID-19 has affected the dynamics of local economies. The lockdown, job losses, fear of contagion and uncertainty all reduce economic activity. Nevertheless, COVID-19 may have strengthened the social solidarity between the community and neighbourhood shops. Small and local shops may feel safer than larger competitors, as there has been a shift in shopping patterns with the big grocery chains, with households making a big (weekly) shop.
Brand loyalty by itself may not be enough to keep customers. The choice of grocery store is driven by convenience as much as brand loyalty. Changes in the pattern of life, especially working from home, are reflected in customers switching their choice of shop. Strengthening the bond with existing loyal customers, so as to maintain trust, will be particularly important as shops reopen. Shops can also adopt innovative digital and technological systems to remain competitive, resulting in the replacement of outdated management, marketing, collaboration and revenue strategies.
A reopening must consider public health, but safety measures such as one-way-systems are likely to deter customers who can shop online as an alternative. It could also act as a sign the store is taking customer safety seriously, gaining respect as it does so. Each measure may have a different impact on shoppers’ intention to turn to online shopping.
The pandemic has led to new technologies becoming increasingly involved in our economic and social lives, affecting our shopping habits. In these rapidly changing times, shops should provide a stronger technological presence and evolve into smart-stores able to provide a unique and entertaining shopping experience. A modernised high street of independent, customer-focused stores will threaten the UK’s larger retailers.