The high street has long been under pressure from online sales and the COVID19 pandemic has only increased that pressure. Online retail has largely managed to survive, if not thrive, during the lockdown, with Amazon making headlines for its massive sales. At the same time, however, the COVID19 pandemic also highlighted the fact that online retailers still need to up their game if they are to succeed over the long term.
COVID19 showed the difficulties of pivoting the business model
Primark is probably one of the few major retailers to be without an online sales channel. This meant that when its brick-and-mortar stores were forced to close, it was left without any sort of Plan B. Possibly this is something the retailer will address as part of its post-COVID19 future. It is, however, probably fair to say that it’s very challenging for business giants to make changes at all, let alone at any sort of speed.
In fact, even major retailers with an established online presence often struggled to cope with a vast increase in online sales. Supermarkets, for example, have long operated on a combination of physical sales and online sales. They were, however, left overwhelmed when customers started ordering online in droves. The issue, in many cases, was not the lack of stock, but the inability to get it where it was needed.
SMEs pivoted more easily than corporates
As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. SMEs which were previously based entirely in the real world have sometimes found ways to take their business online. It’s probably a safe bet that some of them at least will stay there, or at least maintain a presence there as a backup to their real-world operations.
SMEs which were already in the online space, have been ramping up their operations. In particular, many of them have been looking for markets outside the UK. Growing international reach can be a benefit at any time. It could prove especially valuable at a time when consumer spending in the UK could feasibly be set to contract.
According to statistics from Tamebay, UK SMEs have been very successful at increasing both their overall sales and their exports. Over half of them exported during the lockdown period (March and April) with the value of eBay UK exports by SMEs rising by +2% and the number of items exported rising by +7%.
Tamebay identified the “top ten” countries for exports in terms of both volume and value. Unsurprisingly, 8 of them were in the EU. This could raise some concerns about post-Brexit exports, at least in the short-term. On the plus side, however, the U.S. was in second place for volume and first for value while Australia took seventh place for both volume and value.
The top-performing categories in lockdown reflect the pandemic environment
It may come as a surprise to see that the top-performing category for exports during lockdown was Vehicle Parts & Accessories but this can probably be partnered with Home, Furniture & DIY (ranked fourth) as a sign of people using lockdown to catch up on maintenance, repairs and general upgrades.
Similarly, Computers/Tablets & Networking, Business, Office & Industrial and even, possibly, some of Home, Furniture & DIY (ranked second, fifth and fourth respectively), reflects home many people needed to upgrade their home-working space.
Likewise Sporting Goods and probably at least some of Health & Beauty (sixth and seventh respectively) shows how many of us are exercising at home. Toys & Games and probably at least some of Sound & Vision (eight and tenth respectively) reflect the challenges of keeping entertained during the lockdown.
Last but not least, Clothes, Shoes & Accessories (second) and Jewellery & Watches (ninth) probably reflects a combination of the closure of high-street stores and people having some “retail therapy” to cheer themselves up.
Of course, any goods sold online still need to be shipped. If you need expert packing or logistics, please contact us.