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Is digital the vaccine retailers need to future proof their business?

Retail in Australia

Six weeks ago, I ordered a new desk online from a prominent Australian retailer. I wasn’t home between the hours of nine and four weekdays to get it delivered and they didn’t deliver on weekends, so I sought to get it delivered to the store. My local store told me they couldn’t accept my delivery due to health and safety issues and weren't able to offer me any other alternative. I was advised that as I was an online customer they couldn't help me. Huh?

Fast forward six weeks and last night I received a text and a screenshot from my girlfriend in disbelief that Kmart had adopted a queuing system on their website. To be fair this wasn’t the first time I had seen this over the weekend. Many industry pundits had taken to social media to share the same screenshot. I am sure there is a logical business reason for Kmart's decision to do so – supply chain issues, website load or some other scenario. But I am also sure that consumers don’t give it as much thought as industry experts have. Instead they simply decide to spend their time and money elsewhere.

I tell these stories, not because I don't love Kmart, because I do, but because they characterize the state of retail in Australia. Sure, there are a few notable bricks and mortar retailers that have really embraced digital as central to their business strategy – Officeworks and Dan Murphy’s come to mind, but for many it is still not seen as a central part of their business.

This is something that I think is about to change for many retail brands; COVID-19 has left many retailers exposed and it's accelerating the transition to digital. This pandemic might just be the catalyst Australian retailers need to accelerate their investment in digital but for many with weaker balance sheets it will require them to re-think their entire business to shore up their future.

Customer expectations are shifting There is little doubt that the pandemic is re-shaping customer behaviours and expectations, whilst demand for online services will normalise at lower levels than the highs we are experiencing now, I have no doubt they will normalise at higher levels than we have ever seen before.

COVID-19 has created many barriers for consumers to engage and shop with brands offline and this is now challenging retailers to play catch up as online demand surges. 

According to the Adobe Digital Index, the US has recorded a 62% increase in buy online/pick up instore services in March alone, whilst McKinsey has suggested Italy has experienced 81% growth in online shopping. Many consumers are shopping online for the first time and over time they will become more accustom to shopping via online channels. More drop off and pick up services are also being rolled out creating a new level of convenience for shoppers. These and other trends are likely to continue well after this crisis is over. 

Grappling with the challenge? Unfortunately, in this environment time is not on retailers side, but constraints like these can enable organisations to do their best work and you see the art of the possible. For retailers looking to re-think and re-shape their strategy in a digital world where should they start?

Focus on continually moving forward – Rather than attempting to develop or re-think your entire digital strategy, identify where the most logical place is to start, implement and then scale up based on learnings. Adopting an iterative approach will enable you build maturity faster and realise benefits sooner.

Have the right data and insight at your fingertips – Putting in place the right measures and reporting cadence will allow you to track progress in order to make informed decisions about what to do next. But your own performance is only one part of the equation. With much regulatory change occurring, public sentiment and behaviours are rapidly evolving – it is therefore important to have mechanisms to capture feedback and intelligence from the market to capitalise on opportunities as they arise.

Get the right support around you – As time is of the essence, retailers need to think about how to augment their internal knowledge and skills to build for the future. Learning from those who have successfully navigated the challenges can help to accelerate plans whilst avoiding the pitfalls.

Go beyond technology – Shifting how teams think about customers, and how teams come together to solve customer problems can have a demonstrable impact on digital transformation programs. Often retail operations are centred around channels, and are heavily geared towards managing stores. This leads teams to think in a very silo’d manner - through the lense of channels rather than customers. Shifting mindsets unfortunately isn’t something that will change overnight – but it can be the difference between success and failure long term. #retail #eCommerce #COVID #coronavirus #modernbusiness #innovation Follow Arktic Fox for regular thoughts and insights for Customer and Marketing leaders. To find out how Arktic Fox can support your digital strategy or digital transformation efforts contact us on or visit


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