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How will the retail landscape in Ireland change post lockdown?

05/08/2021

Ireland endured one of the strictest and longest Covid-19 lockdowns in Europe. The country first went into lockdown on 27th March 2020 and although the lockdown eased late 2020, Ireland soon re-entered severe lockdown restrictions at Christmas 2020 and these  were kept in place until early June 2021. For the most part, the restrictions meant that only essential retail was allowed to be open and functional, and as a result, 2020 was a year of unprecedented growth for the Irish Grocery Retail / Convenience sector.  

As the restrictions lift and the vaccine rollouts gather pace, EFMP Irish Partner FMI look at the retail opportunities post lockdown in Ireland.

The Rise of Omnichannel

The shift in consumer spending online  was a major retail headline globally in 2020, yet in Ireland, the pandemic highlighted the lack of a dominant e-commerce grocery option. Although most retailers managed to offer some form of click and collect  option, the process was cumbersome. What is evident is that as restrictions lift, retailers will need to think more broadly and invest more rapidly in a world of blended bricks and mortar and omnichannel e-commerce capabilities. Building an omnichannel suite quickly and at scale can often involve a mix of both brand-owned and non-brand-owned touch points, which can mean that a trade-off between  control of the brand and operational capacity  needs to be weighed up.

Click-and-collect will continue to form an essential element of Irish retailers’ sales and fulfilment channel. Although online offers the most growth opportunity, the cost of picking up and/or delivery linked to the online channel remains a deterrent to Irish retailers.

The growth of social commerce and personal shopping

With 68% of Irish consumers  shopping more online now than before the pandemic, many physical stores have  opted to use social commerce digital tools like What’s App and social media as a means to bridge the gap between offline and online and to generate sales.  This  allowed them to set  up virtual appointments / consultations and to offer a strong after-sales service simply and quickly without the financial outlay of building a bespoke digital solution. Technology like chatbot and virtual assistance have helped to deliver a frictionless digital experience and the ability to access human support that consumers have come to expect online.  This level of personal attention is particularly relevant to high end stores and large ticket items but it is quickly expanding across a range of goods and services.  It is a trend that is likely to gain momentum and will distinguish progressive retailers from the rest.  

Technology Instore

The interplay between online channels and instore technology remains very limited in Ireland.

Although AR, VR and AI have often been written about, the implementation in Ireland has been slow. Since the pandemic brands and retailers have had to find and rely on tech-driven solutions that bring consumers closer to the product. Progressive retailers recognise that in order to retain customer loyalty and engagement they need to invest in store revamps that include the latest retail technology, merging the online and offline experience, all the while still prioritising consumers’ health and safety. 

There is also a strong sentiment that retailers should continue to focus on delivering customer service, accessibility, and proactive community engagement to their consumers in the coming months.

For consumers, although the less frequent/big weekly shop trend still continues which favours the larger grocery stores, the vaccination roll-out has seen the over 65s visiting supermarkets more frequently and Convenience operators have started presenting themselves as a more accessible, top-up option to appeal to consumers who are working from home. 

Personal wellbeing will remain a priority for consumers and as a result the use of cards and contactless payment will endure.  

Sustainable Future

The pandemic was also a time of reflection for consumers to make value-based choices to support local suppliers and be more conscious of the impact of their purchasing decisions on the environment. In the last few years there has been increased  focus on retailers  in respect of the need to reduce excess packaging and also to reduce the environmental impact of deliveries. This trend is likely to continue, dominating consumer decision making.   

Although it is cliched to say the pandemic has changed how consumers shop,  while the above trends are not new, the pandemic has accelerated the need to adopt of many of these same trends. As things return to normal, retailers should understand that consumers’ shopping habits are anything but normal, their  requirements and expectations have changed, and retail needs to continue to evolve to meet those changes.

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