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Will record retail sales during COVID continue?

17 March 2021
Retailers need to innovate to survive post-COVID
The "goldrush" many retailers experienced last year will only last for as long as the sector is able to innovate, according to an expert from the University of Sydney Business School.

With household spending on services like travel limited by the coronavirus pandemic, many consumers redirected spending on retail goods. According to statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020 was the best year for retail sales on record.

Authored by Gareth Jude - PhD candidate from the University’s Institute of Transport & Logistics Studies – a new book called Retail Innovation Reframed offers the retail industry the key to thriving post-COVID.

“A downturn in retailers’ turnover after the record-highs of last year is inevitable. But if the sector wants to survive and thrive it needs to ensure it is equipped to adapt to post COVID-19 trading conditions,” Mr Jude said.

“The retail industry has shown it can innovate; the quick transition to contactless delivery is proof of that. And there was a real sense of pride, particularly from those working in the food retailing sector, that they were keeping Australians fed and the economy going during the COVID crisis.”

Co-authored by Andrew Smith, the book will be launched at the Australian Retailers Association Leaders Forum today.

CEO of Australian Retailers Association, Paul Zahra, said: “If your business needs to change or if you serve a retail business that is having difficulty with the process of innovation, I commend this book to you.”

The biggest challenge facing the retail industry isn’t the economy, the so-called new consumer, technology or COVID-19 but rather how equipped they are to tackle innovation.
Gareth Jude, PhD candidate at the Institute of Transport & Logistics Studies

The book draws on case studies from business large and small, from Walmart and Target in the U.S. to a Sydney-based retailer of vegan and gluten-free donuts, cakes and treats called Nutie. Founded by Sina Klug and Jacques Dumont in 2016, Nutie had two retail outlets and an events business pre-COVID restriction.

Day one of lockdown was bitter-sweet for the owners, who had to shut the events arm of the business and also organise home deliveries for the first time. After receiving orders from customers all over NSW and even 300km away in Canberra, Sina and Jacques set up delivery routing.

As ordering patterns developed, they created a schedule to deliver products regularly to pick up points throughout inner Sydney as well as Penrith, Newcastle, Gosford, Campbelltown and the Hills, posting the time and location on their social media channels. By getting customers to pick up from their van they avoided the high cost and complexity of direct to home food delivery.

Mr Jude added, “By some estimates the coronavirus pandemic drove ten years of digital innovation in 10 months, and many retailers are asking can the pace of change continue?

“The biggest challenge facing the retail industry isn’t the economy, the so-called new consumer, technology or COVID-19 but rather how equipped they are to tackle innovation. There’s a real danger that retailers will revert back to ‘business as usual’ as restrictions ease. But this would almost guarantee negative business consequences.” 

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