The Changing Face of Retail: Moving to a truly Digital World

Monday 23rd of March 2020; The day the world as we knew it changed.

Over the past 10 weeks, consumer behaviour has been dictated by a move between mindsets, initially fear, panic and concern. Followed by slowly delving into the “new normal” stage…

With the Government announcing that non-essential stores can re-open again from the 15th of June, a full 3 months after an enforced hiatus, what has the sector learned and is it ready for the challenge at hand?

Over the past few months, I have spoken to many C-Suite members across the retail landscape who each have their own challenges. What has really struck a chord with me is that no matter the size & scale of the organisation, at least one of the following three areas is critical to surviving in this new world:

  • Operational Business Transformation
  • Customer Experience
  • Omni-Channel

There is no denying, the COVID outbreak has upended the retail industry; Departments stores and an already stricken high street have been hit severely: 14.3% of all stores reported zero turnover during April, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Organisations have finally realised that technology is imperative to their business surviving, stabilising and then thriving in a post COVID world.

What has also become clear, is that these traditional 3-5 year transformation programmes need to be accelerated dramatically otherwise there is a chance that your business could be used as a case study on what went wrong!

Fast-tracking transformation

With the shift to a truly digital business, there are generally two great challenges:

  1. Technology & 2. Talent


One of the area’s that has become apparent, is that technology wise a number of brands are not equipped to work in a truly digital way. A slick looking website, does not always translate to a fully functioning backend platform, we have seen a number of issues with the rush to online including Websites crashing, Inventory issues and extremely long queues.

The organisations that do have a functioning online offering have had fulfilment issues by not having the logistics to cope with delivering a staggering increase of goods to households, rather than the usual click & collect in store.

Across the world, we are witnessing a rise in AI and automation. Walmart, America’s biggest retailer, have been deploying robots to clean its floors, stock shelves and deliver groceries. Retailers small and large are turning to innovative technologies to cut costs, improve operations and increase efficiency across their core business units.

The use of automation software is being used to enhance services, reduce delivery times & provide a cost-effective solution for repetitive tasks across HR, Supply Chain, Finance & IT.

Data at a granular level is extremely important and is needed now more than ever to understand ever changing behaviours across your business. Investing in a fully functioning CRM, that can capture & track the customer at every stage of their journey ensuring a unique shopping experience.

This, coupled with an industry leading PIM system, will allow you to market & sell products effectively across a multichannel / omni-channel proposition.

Those retailers who are able to use technology well (and economically) and rethink their business model for the future, will emerge ahead of their competitor’s post-pandemic.


As your business changes, so do the skills needed to drive this transformation – this mindset change starts from the top, Retail Leaders need to be comfortable in challenging the norms and build teams underneath them that align with a digital way of working. This does not necessarily mean wholesale personnel changes, but what it does mean is identifying skills gaps, quickly and filling those with exceptional talent to help elevate your business.

This talent may already be in your organisation, so look closely at other business functions internally and promote from within, work closely with a trusted talent partner (internal or external) that can advise on market trends, plug skills gaps and plan for future requirements. And finally, with remote working being ingrained into working life, this can allow you to look for Talent outside of the traditional 40m radius of HQ.

If the Talent you need is outside of your business, then you will need a robust plan in place to ensure you hire the correct individual. The importance of interim consultants cannot be downplayed, having the right interim(s) on board to help take your permanent team to the next level can be the difference between surviving & thriving – focus on what skills can be transferred, whether it is technical or leadership and use to fill skill gaps.

By the time stores open mid-June, we will as a country have been in lockdown for three months –there is no doubt we are all craving some social interaction. Those retailers who can respond to their customers’ needs quickly and map out a strategy reflective of their change in behaviour will emerge strongest.

Look out for my next two blogs, where I follow on the challenges faced in Customer Experience & Omni-channel.

If you are struggling to identify & attract the right talent, feel free to contact me on the below details for an informal discussion on how I can assist.

Contact Jordan

Vivo are well placed to provide advice & guidance on staffing challenges attributed with Business Transformation in the Retail space. Jordan has 12 years’ experience assisting Retail, FMCG & Consumer Driven organisations of all shapes & sizes in securing world class talent to achieve their transformation goals.