Exclusive interviews with retail CEOs reveal how the pandemic has impacted their businesses, the industry’s tentative road to recovery and what the long-term effects may be for the sector.

The retail industry is set for a ‘new normal’ with long-term changes in consumer shopping habits and behaviours, the leaders of 25 of the UK’s largest retailers and brands have told Retail Week in a new report.

This was the overwhelming consensus among the leaders interviewed as part of Retail 2020, Retail Week’s flagship annual report now in its ninth year.

Produced in association with Microsoft, the report’s research was conducted as the coronavirus pandemic began unfolding and provides a comprehensive analysis of its impact on the retail ecosystem and its potential long-term implications.

“The retail industry is set for a ‘new normal’ with long-term changes in consumer shopping habits and behaviours”

The report shows that the year began positively. No matter which way they voted, most leaders interviewed were positive about Boris Johnson’s win at the polls providing a majority government, breaking the impasse and delivering on Brexit. As a result, they were cautiously optimistic for the year ahead.

Few could have foreseen how the next few months would pan out. On March 11, the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and, with the UK still in widespread lockdown, the country remains a long way from operating normally.

Retail 2020 recommends five key steps for retailers in these unprecedented times:

1. Keep staff safe and take care of customers

During a global health emergency, a retailer’s priorities are to follow the official government medical-supported guidance, play their part in helping consumers get what they need and – where possible – light up shoppers’ lives in dark times.

2. Respect the world around them

Consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious, and there is evidence to suggest these attitudes are starting to influence purchasing decisions. This year, responsible retailers – those that respect the world around them – will be favoured.

3. Delve further into the data

Whether it’s to achieve better operational processes, to create more informed marketing messages or to help steer the business in the way it needs to go, sophisticated data management will be ever more crucial for retailers seeking to achieve a single view of the customer.

4. Make voices heard

Retail has shown its importance to society in the coronavirus crisis, from the grocers feeding the nation through to brands such as LVMH producing hand sanitiser. Post-pandemic, the industry must ensure it uses its influence to lobby government on issues vital to its future – from Brexit trade-deal agreements to potential long-term business rate restructuring.

5. Broaden horizons

Whether it’s exploring untested digital platforms, venturing into new international territories or trying new services and designs in stores and online, it is so important that retailers don’t stand still as consumer-business relationships continue to evolve.

Retail 2020 cover

To find out more about the retail outlook for this year and beyond, download your copy of Retail 2020 today to discover:

  • Insights from in-depth interviews with 25 retail leaders
  • How the industry has reacted to the coronavirus pandemic
  • What retail’s road to recovery looks like
  • The longer-term implications for consumer behaviour and spending.