Most retailers have adapted to survive the most disrupted year in living memory. But now what? Now is the time to get your plans in order. Or risk the consequence of not doing so…
It has long been the fate of the retail sector to serve as something of a barometer of society. We gauge the economy by how much people are spending, we set – or follow – fashion through what people are wearing, we understand what marketing or promotional techniques work from what and when people are buying. It has long been thus for the retail sector, but has been accelerated by the digital age. In short: many digital innovations have been tried first and fastest in retail.
Right now we stand at another inflection point in history as economies try to survive – and then recover – in a pandemic-seized world. What consumer behaviours from the last six months will be seen to be temporarily tactical, and which strategically long-lasting, is yet to become clear.
It’s a tricky time for retailers to be planning their future, but what’s clear is that the over-riding imperative is that they must have a plan, and not leave their future to short term sticking plasters or the unknowable course of a pandemic. As the old saying goes: a failure to plan is a plan for failure.
One of the definite growth areas to have come out of the global pandemic is the sheer amount of articles and commentators telling companies what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. One example is this blog which offers a five-point checklist for retailers that includes such instructions for the immediate future as “Prioritize people safety and continuous engagement”; “Communicate with relevant stakeholders”; “Maximise the use of government support policies”.
Yet the world of retail is too big and varied for a one-size-fits-all-framework. For some retailers their biggest challenge may indeed be around maintaining physical distancing instore, but for others the burning issues might be around the unforeseen need to scale specific aspects of online operations. So rather than tell retailers exactly what they should be doing, it’s just as important – and I’d argue more important – to advise them what they will need in place to be able to adapt, and to be able to survive and thrive in a world where this sort of change and disruption is indeed the new normal.
One thing Hitachi specialises in above other is in making retailers future-ready. And that has never been more important than it is right now. One very recent example would be the work we did with iconic UK footwear brand Dr Martens – “Project Reboot”, no less.
Dr Martens knew it needed to replace legacy applications and to give the brand the tools it needed to grow the business and step into the future. Microsoft Dynamics 365 was selected due to its end-to-end capabilities, from visibility into warehouse through to reverse logistics, click & collect, Business Intelligence, and more. Recognising “this wasn’t just an IT project, but a business transformation project”, Dr Martens brought Hitachi on board both for our expertise in Microsoft Dynamics and expertise in retail wholesale.
Key users at Dr Martens can now see real-time aggregated data that gives genuine, fast insight into trends. This helps get stocking and replenishment cycles right, while having all this information in one place reliably makes management much smoother. Microsoft Dynamics 365 has proven that Dr Martens can grow its business aggressively, move into new markets globally, and explore new channels.
Above all, Dr Martens now has a future-proof solution that is helping them pull ahead confidently into the future. Their forward-planning and the vision for Project Reboot has, objectively, paid off quickly. Dr Martens saw particularly strong lockdown sales, so much in fact that they repaid furlough money to the UK Government.
There's never been a better time for action than right now. Setting up for future success, having a plan, no matter the circumstances, is nothing less than critical to survive 2021.
When you need to flex, and to be agile, and to take a step back and look at your operations and resources objectively, it helps to have a technology partner by your side. 2020 has been all about key learnings – many of them very hard learnings. How do you take the relevant insight from them, and avoid the mistakes other retailers have made, moving forward?
Companies like Hitachi are using the time right now as an opportunity to drive awareness of the key things retailers need to do to ensure that they are more resilient to drastically changing circumstances in the future. In part this is about business continuity and crisis management planning for the future, but it's also about scalability and agility more widely.
If you want to discover how Hitachi Solutions is helping retailers today rethink how they plan for the future, please do get in touch. We also explored future-thinking in a LinkedIn Live event which took place on Wednesday 4th November. It Featured guest speakers from Dr Martens and Microsoft and was designed to help retailers learn from the events of 2020 and focus on 2021, and beyond. You can watch the event here.