Shopping is back in fashion as UK retailers report strong summer sales.
Research from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) shows that retail sales remained ahead of expectations in July with a 23% rise in sales volumes. This is a slight slow down from June, which saw the fastest rise in sales volumes since 2018, with an optimistic 25% increase.
Ben Jones, CBI’s principal economist, explained: “Consumer demand continues to support the UK’s economic recovery. Retail sales have been at or above seasonal norms for the last four months now, although this picture is not universal, with clothing and footwear stores in particular yet to see demand recover to usual levels.”
July also saw record numbers struck down by the ‘pingdemic’, which wreaked havoc across multiple sectors. An astonishing 618,903 alerts were sent to Test and Trace app users in England in just one day. Mr Jones added: “The number one worry for many firms at the minute is labour shortages throughout the supply chain as staff self-isolate.”
Gavin Peck, chief executive of The Works, told Retail Week that retailers were having to operate reduced store hours due to the pandemic and said he had been forced to ’restaff [stores] at short notice’. Despite concerns across the retail industry, retail store staff are not included in the list of key workers to become exempt from the Covid self-isolation rules - although the exemption is set to apply to 10,000 workers in the food supply chain industry.
To end on a high, it certainly appears that consumer confidence is continuing to rise, thanks in large part to the successful vaccination rollout, as well as the precautionary measures adopted by retailers that are persuading customers back into shops. Indeed, research company GfK reported that consumer confidence climbed to pre-pandemic levels in July.
We have previously reported on the mounting success of online sales trends. However, experts now warn that e-commerce retailers must not get complacent.
Feedback from retailers already suggests that the easing of retail restrictions has affected online sales as consumers returned to physical stores. The Office of National Statistics reported a fall in the proportion of online spending for a fourth consecutive month, although the figures do remain higher than February 2020 (pre-coronavirus).
With hopefully no new lockdown in sight, online retailers must now consider a different issue: how can they continue to retain new customers as the world opens back up? Fiona Stevens, head of marketing at customer loyalty platform Loyalty Lion, believes that storytelling and authenticity will play a key role. According to Stevens, customer loyalty usually comes with a greater understanding of a brand's history.
Loyalty schemes are an effective way for online businesses to engage with their customers and make them feel valued. It was recently reported that 27% of consumers said that their rewards programme membership prompted them to shop with a particular retailer during the holidays (this was based on a survey of more than 1,130 online shoppers in January 2021).
Damon Petite, director of product marketing at Mailchimp, agrees that the ’key to building and maintaining good relationships with people who have purchased from your business is to know them and personalise your marketing for them’.
Whilst we have seen a rise in social media marketing, the use of email has remained steadfast for retailers during the pandemic. According to Econsultancy, email marketing boasts a high return on investment due to a lack of underlying social media costs, and is content-rich and adaptable due to its capacity to deliver tailored content to specific segments of a brand's audience through the use of automation.
It will be interesting to see what happens to online sales trends over the coming weeks and months, particularly following ‘Freedom Day’ last month. Will we continue to lean on those shopping behaviours that we built up in the lockdowns? Perhaps so, while many of us still work from home. Time will tell.