Retail Phase 2: let’s not misunderstand what this is really all about

retail fase 2
Michele Caprini
15 May 2020

Phase 2, or rather the reopening of many businesses after two months of shutdown, will begin in Italy on Monday, 18 May. It must be said that our domestic situation is far from homogeneous, given the South Tyrol Provincial Council’s decision for the Bolzano province and, in a different way, that of the Sardinia Region for municipalities with an epidemic rate equal to or less than 0.5.

Diversities and temporariness 

The key objectives common to all of Europe are the pursuit of maximum safety and the awareness of the temporary nature of the current situation, linked to the subsequent measures as a consequence of the provisions. As for the application of these, there are no common guidelines and each country moves forward according to its own criteria.

France has been split into two regions and departments classified as green or red zones. The red zone comprises the worst affected areas, both for the levels of propagation and the strain placed on hospital intensive care units, while the green zone indicates the areas where the lockdown will be loosened with the reopening of some businesses, excluding shopping malls over 40,000 square meters.

Spain’s Phase 2 excludes two of the country’s major economic hubs, Madrid and Barcelona, ​​which will remain severely restricted. Shutters will go up only in the Basque Country, in Galicia and in 6 Andalusian provinces for stores below 400 square meters, provided that they are not in malls or medium-sized business parks. As a result of this, those more likely to suffer most are the sales networks of the main fashion houses, such as Mango and Inditex, who have long opted for big-size sales points.

Germany has already decided since 20 April to allow the reopening of most stores with a floor area of less than 800 square meters.

In the UK, Phase 2 will begin from 1 June, but this is subject to the evolution of the pandemic in the country. However, Boris Johnson’s government has not yet given precise indications on the trade sectors involved. This is no surprise, considering that across the Channel efforts are being made to recover some of the delay, given that the first containment measures were imposed only on 23 March.

After the lockdown

In post-lockdown era, shutters up or down are only a sign of recovery. In fact, COVID-19 seems to have accelerated a retail shift that seems irreversible. The e-shoppers community, greatly increased by lockdown newbies, has driven e-commerce sales to new highs, requiring a strategic review of the store role.

The first country concerned is Italy. Before the economic crisis induced by COVID-19, online sales barely reached 8% of the total, compared to a world average of 12-13% (20% in the UK) and already up to 30% in China. There is no doubt that the volumes achieved during the lockdown will not be equalled again soon, but it is equally beyond doubt that they will be significantly higher than in the preceding period.

There is a very interesting precedent in the world history of retail. The Chinese e-commerce giants owe a large part of their establishment and origin to the SARS crisis of 2003. At the time, Alibaba was a small, start-up platform geared exclusively towards the B2B market. At that moment, Jack Ma decided to launch Taobao, a C2C platform that quickly took the Chinese e-commerce leadership from eBay. Similar story for JD, an electronics retailer forced to close all stores and focus instead on Chinese chat platforms, to then become the giant JD.com of today.

The unavoidable omnichannel choice

It is precisely e-commerce, on the other hand, that triggered the change in the physical store, still preferred by 70% of the Chinese population and which has gradually transformed itself from a plain goods pick-up point to the venue for the shopping experience. After the lockdown, this will be the real ground for comparison and identification of differences.

For many years now, the restructuring of American retail has provided clear and unequivocal indications on the shift in shopping habits, enough to coin the term ‘Retail Apocalypse’. Under this term, which due to the acceleration given by the coronavirus outbreak still occupies a large part of the news, a new era of retail has arrived, and the choices made by some large actors in the distribution chain are indisputable proof of this.

It is precisely this emergency that seems to have firmly convinced many doubting operators of the need to build a unique and smooth commercial relationship with the shopper, where the digitalisation of the entire supply chain, from logistics to the showcase window, plays a key role.

Fewer stores, probably smaller, where technology is an indispensable prerequisite for guaranteeing the continuity between off-line and online and a continuous and seamless relationship between retailer and customer — COVID-19 or not.