By Lenore Fedow
lenore.fedow@nationaljeweler.com
Industry experts Peter and Sherry Smith discussed the state of retail in a recent webinar with National Jeweler Editor-in-Chief Michelle Graff. (Photo by Artem Beliaikin)
New York—The coronavirus pandemic has presented unique challenges to retailers as they balance the health of their business with that of the public.

While no one can say with certainty what retail will look like post-pandemic, National Jeweler columnists Peter Smith from Memoire/Hearts On Fire and Sherry Smith of The Edge Retail Academy have a few ideas.

The husband-and-wife team shared their insight on the state of retail with National Jeweler Editor-in-Chief Michelle Graff during her “My Next Question: Retail, Now and Then” webinar Tuesday, part of a series of COVID-19 webinars by Jewelers of America.

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s session.

Brick-and-mortar retail isn’t going anywhere.

With many retailers temporarily shuttered, consumers have been turning to online shopping for everything from essential groceries to late-night impulse buys.

The rise in demand for online shopping has some brick-and-mortar retailers concerned they may lose customers permanently, but that may not be so, Peter Smith said.

“Apparently, we needed COVID-19 to learn that we can shop online and have things delivered to our homes. Who knew?” he wrote in a recent column about post-COVID-19 retail.


He echoed those sentiments during the webinar, stating he doesn’t see “a profound change in the relevance of brick-and-mortar,” due in part to human nature and the need to be around others.

“There will be some changes that happen as a consequence of this, but I don’t think for one second that it’s going to fundamentally change people’s need and want to get out into retail stores,” with the exception being, he noted, this year.

He observed the trend over the last few years of declining foot traffic into retail stores but noted the majority of sales are still made in-store and the average ticket has been increasing.

The pandemic may mean foot traffic will continue to decline for a while, but that should put “pressure on better execution in the store.”

Now is the time for a reset.

Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean every store is going to find its way through the pandemic, he added.

Retailers should “take the time to do self-exploration and self-examination” and determine how to use this time to improve their stores, Peter said.

“There’s never been a better time to look internally at the physical retail experience than right now,” he said.

He recommended focusing on the controllable elements, like scents, music and the store’s aesthetics, to provide a “phenomenal” experience and close sales.

If you’ve considered redoing the store, and cash flow allows for it, now may be the time to change things around, he said.

Sherry agreed, adding “If you’re a retailer still standing, this hopefully served as a wake-up call to you for those things that you weren’t doing that you knew you needed to be doing to evolve and adapt to the changing retail landscape.”

You need an online presence.

One thing retailers may not have gotten around to yet is establishing an online presence, but there’s no time like the present.

“There is no excuse for not having an online presence now,” Peter said.

Just because most sales are still done in-store doesn’t mean retailers can forego conducting business online.

“If you had [an online presence], you know how important it is, and if you don’t, it’s time to really get after it at this point.”

Retailers with an online presence are still able to conduct some business, while those without may be shut out entirely.

He predicted 2021 will see declining online sales compared with the current high levels but said retailers shouldn’t be content with taking whatever piece of the pie is left for physical retailers.

Even though a majority of sales still happen in-store, the process and the search for that perfect piece starts online, Peter said.

For retailers looking to court Gen Y and Gen Z shoppers, an online presence is “imperative,” he added.

Adjust your business plans.

While it can be nearly impossible to say for certain what the future holds for retail, business plans will likely need some tweaking.

Sherry elaborated on some of the points she brought up in her recent column about a reopening checklist for retailers.

If you don’t have any business savings, that may be a good place to start.

“Immediately start saving because we don’t know what the rest of the year is going to look like and so you are going to have to think about every line item in your budget and your expenses,” Sherry said.

Create an adjusted sales plan and a new cash flow worksheet to make sure your operating costs line up, she advised.

“That is so imperative because it’s about sustainability.”

Retailers may also want to do a vendor and performance category analysis to determine what’s working and what may not be.

In a typical business, 20 percent of vendors drive 80 percent of gross profit dollars, Sherry said, estimating that at around 10 to 15 vendors.

“Anything beyond the top ones that are driving 80 percent of revenue are distractions,” she said.

Staying focused on the vendors contributing the most to your business is one way to get back to driving revenue, Sherry said.

Optics matter.

Upon reopening, retailers will need to demonstrate they are taking steps to prioritize the health of safety of customers and employees, Peter said.

“We still have a responsibility to psychologically communicate to customers that this is a safe place to be.”

Customers are going to want to see masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing measures in place, he added.

Retailers operating smaller stores will “have to get real creative about what might that look like,” including finding ways to space out seating areas.

Sherry recommended wiping down jewelry with a disinfectant before handing it to the customer and then again when you take it back.

“They would see these consistent actions being taken by me and my team to let them know that we’re aware of the nervousness and the anxiety associated with putting ourselves out there,” she said.

Personal feelings about how best to protect oneself should be put aside.

“Regardless of how you feel about social distancing, or if you think people are overreacting with masks or overdoing it with hand sanitizer, you don’t know how your customers feel or how scared people are who are coming into your store,” added host Michelle Graff.

Customers may be on the fence about coming into the store, Peter said, and the measures you take, or do not take, will convince them one way or the other.

Plans for how and when businesses will reopen vary from state to state, but Peter and Sherry both expressed concerns about what reopening too soon could do to retail.

“I have great, great fear that in our haste to get business going in May and June, we’ll end up trading it for November and December,” Peter said.

Peter and Sherry Smith relied on their combined experience to provide the webinar audience with the most actionable advice possible given the unprecedented situation, but what retail will look like post-pandemic is anyone’s guess.

“None of us have been here before. It’s still going to be a learning curve for all of us,” Sherry said.


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