Back-end systems and ecommerce are two of the prevailing areas retailers will invest in during 2020, Retail Week’s annual flagship report finds

With all non-essential retail stores forced to close for three months until this week, it is fortunate that retailers had already earmarked online operations as a priority for investment in 2020.

In-depth research conducted with the leaders of 25 of the UK’s most influential retailers just as the coronavirus outbreak was beginning to unfold revealed that technology would be at the forefront of retail strategies for the year ahead.

Ecommerce investment was a priority for 40% of the retail leaders interviewed by Retail Week at the start of the year, with desktop website development (20%) the most popular area of focus online.

Retail 2020, produced in association with Microsoft, indicated that 2020 was going to be the year in which businesses would invest primarily in back-end systems (52%), customer service and experience (48%), and opening and updating stores (44%).

Focus on long-term growth

With the grocery sector dealing with crippling demand in March and other retailers battling for survival, focusing on long-term growth might seem like a task few businesses can afford the time and money on right now. But it is precisely circumstances such as these when bold decisions are required.

Retailers who fine-tune their technological capabilities and combine it with rich customer data could stand in good stead.

Louise Watkins, head of sector for retail and consumer goods at Microsoft UK, thinks the current situation will lead to a change in working practices. “Covid-19 has meant we’ve gone from one extreme to the other in terms of remote working,” she says.

“Retailers that have used their data insights to create an informed view of their customers’ behaviours and a strong brand identity with which to build affinity will capitalise on that.”

Former Waitrose managing director Mark Price, who now runs employee engagement company Engaging Works, also expects the shift in consumers working from home to lead to greater online growth – another reason to ensure both back- and front-end systems are a priority.

Many retailers, of course, continued to keep online operations alive during the period when the government’s official advice to citizens was to avoid leaving the house for anything other than essential shopping, medicine, work or exercise.

For that reason, the fact that more than one-third of the retailers we interviewed said ecommerce investment would be a key focus area in 2020 could prove to be a blessing. 

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

Retail 2020 cover

  • 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