It was most definitely an hour well-spent for the 500+ members of the greeting card and gift community who Zoomed in to watch an incredibly insightful and inspirational webinar entitled Retail & Gifting: Looking To The Other Side Of Covid-19, which was compiled and hosted by Stephen Illingworth, director of product and marketing at major gift company Widdop and Co.
The webinar, a veritable thesis for our time, was packed full of facts, tips, trends, predictions, ideas, useful contacts, inspirational insights as well as reality checks which, while primarily aimed at retailers, will resonant with anybody in the gift and greeting card trade.
Stephen’s motivation for the webinar was to help retailers prepare for life post-Covid-19, by getting ready for the ‘new normal’ which will be somewhat different to before in so many ways, from buying habits, product trends, consumer expectations and human behaviour.
“While the light is not yet the end of the tunnel, shafts of light are beginning to appear piercing the gloom” said Stephen, signalling how the UK is currently at the penultimate point – Restricted Living – of what research company Nielsen sees as a six stage programme in the ‘Covid-19 impact on retail’ with the final one we are all waiting for being ‘Living the new normal’.
As Stephen warns: “Do not expect Nirvana…According to the analysts’ predictions, once restrictions are eased, initially, there won’t be a pent up demand for bricks and mortar retail, with only 20% of people in the UK immediately returning to stores, and 15% saying that they will avoid shops for three months.”
As he highlighted: “Normality is not something we have seen for a long time or should expect again. The complacency associated with any ‘new normal’ will only set us up for failure as the next change surfaces.”
He continued: “In the interim, once finances are shored up with government help, businesses face a choice in the slowdown – to fire fight and survive the volatility – to plan now and take positive and proactive steps to prepare for change and permanent shifts in consumer demand, such as travel, crowds, social contact and online shopping.”
As he put it, “after a lost decade, that included Brexit and now Covid-19, it’s important to focus on the retail trends that lie at the heart of change to take retailers from surviving to thriving.”
Stephen then went on to detail ways retailers can be more in step with the changing needs and expectations of the UK shopper post-Covid.
His ‘strategy for change’ comprises an eight part ‘bundle’ – steps that retailers can be taking to get ready for post isolation: becoming a responsible retailer; embracing social media; engaging with multi-channel through getting online and soon; enhancing services, the customer experience and theatre; creating a safe, hygienic retailing environment; socialising the shop around key events; using the lockdown for personal development and finding product for post-isolation trends.
“A store without an online presence is only half a store. There is currently 382 million square feet of retail space closed, so consumers are currently only going one way – online,” stated Stephen. “It’s a scary, competitive area, but getting started is key and it’s easier than ever with companies such as Shopify and Magento who do most of the integration, meaning that there is no need to build a website from scratch. No-one wants to compete with Amazon, and while price is important, you need to have a point of difference. Innovation, services and authenticity are key.”
As for bricks and mortar stores, he highlighted S.E.T: Services, Experience and Theatre, building FOMO (fear of missing out), making store visits “memorable. Make customers feel important”. Rather than giving away discounts, why not invest in a coffee machine and give away free coffee, or partner with a local bakery and give away pastries, he suggests.
“Rip out your old window displays are start completely from scratch. Create temporary displays, using props. Create new signage…” he continued enthusiastically sharing contacts galore of where to source props or download design templates.
Running through a list of the top ten items that Britons have been buying during the lockdown, olive oil was in the top spot, gift bags in the No.9 spot and board games in the No.10 spot.
Giving a positive shout out for greeting cards during this as well as afterwards, Stephen believes that consumers will be drawn further to anti-tech solutions as social interaction grows. Other product trends Stephen urges retailers to not miss out on at the end of isolation include those based on humour about life after lockdown; anything rainbow-centric; gifts for ‘heroes’; anti-technology gifts such as board games, giftware linked into characters from films and shows that have grown in popularity during lockdown such as Friends, Tigers (due to the popularity of Tiger King on Netflix), classics shown on Disney+; home-based hobbies such as sewing, craft, baking and gardening as well as those for continued wellness, travel accessories and, after all the DIY, home decor items.
“A new product category has also evolved – a category for personal hygiene products as gifts,” Stephen added.
Also crucial coming out of this will be responsible retailing, where people – especially Generation Z and millennials – shop with their values, with every business needing to demonstrate respectable values, greater respect for staff, strong relationships and sustainable stewardship. “Even before Covid-19, 62% of people shopped with their values,” Stephen underlined, imploring retailers to be prepared with social distancing and hygiene items to protect both staff and customers but in tandem with this add to the ‘social’ side of shopping in your store.
“Don’t miss out on creating an event once a month – Back to School will be big this year as children have been off for so long…what about an after-hours entertainer, so many actors and musicians have been out of work for so long,” he said sharing only a few of his many ideas.
The ‘new normal’ beckons and Stephen Illingworth’s inaugural webinar was perfectly timed for businesses looking to act on ‘shafts of light’.
For those who missed the webinar. It can be viewed HERE
And an accompanying content and worksheet can be found at: https://www.widdop.co.uk/look-on-the-bright-side
Of creating the webinar, Stephen confided in PG Buzz that is was something that he’s “been working towards for a long time…I go out across the UK and other countries comp shopping and researching regularly and so I get to see all the good and bad of retailing which, when I combine it with my knowledge of product and supply chain from my buying activities, it is an incredible way to see best practice. There are so many retailers who want to do better and be more positive but just don’t know where to start so I really wanted to help them to form a practical strategy that they can grow into over time.
It is an area I feel really passionate about and I hope the webinar was just the beginning of the conversation and the creation of a more regular, constructive forum to support our industry in evolving through these crises.”
The webinar was followed by a Q&A session with Stephen, Sarah Ward, chief executive of The Giftware Association and Michael Weedon, managing director of EXP2 and chair of the FSB Retail and High Street Unit.
Top: The webinar highlighted how there are shafts of light appearing for retailers.