As much of Europe re-enters lockdown for the second time this year, retail sales are looking more hopeful across Asia Pacific on the countdown to Christmas. In Australia, turnover fell in food and household goods in September, but continues to trade at elevated levels compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile in New Zealand, the latest Retail NZ Sales Index reports strong spending through October, and that total spending since March is now slightly ahead of last year. â€
sp; â€śOverall retail sales in October were 20.7 per cent higher than last year,â€ť Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said on Monday. â€śThis reflects the fact that consumers have money in their pockets, supported by low interest rates and increase in house prices, and that New Zealanders are still unable to travel overseas because of Covid-19.â€ť Thereâ€™s a mixed recovery in Asia, with countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia all but returned to normal, while Indonesia, India and the Philippines are still battling coronavirus with dizzying case numbers. Importance of omnichannel Thanks to the online shopping boom this year, more consumers will be completing at least part of their purchase journey online this Christmas. According to a new report by CPM, Retail Safari and The General Store, the number of shoppers who intend to use an omnichannel approach this Christmas is a strong majority at 82 per cent, up from 61 per cent in 2019. The 2020 Australian Christmas Shopping Intentions â€“ Consumer Outlook and Covid-19 impacts report found that the pandemic disrupted consumer purchase behaviour across all generations, most notably older consumers in the 55-74-year-old age bracket, who are now more accustomed to online shopping as a result. â€śThe rules have changed. Older consumers have adjusted their shopping habits due to the pandemic and digital channels are no longer about reaching younger demographics exclusively,â€ť Nabih Awad, report author and Retail Safari managing director, told Inside Retail. Awad said that failing to connect with older age groups is a missed opportunity in these changed times. â€śTo reach this group, brands and retailers need to go beyond traditional avenues and develop an online presence that tailors the e-commerce experience to an older demographic. This will help older Australians maintain their relationships with their favourite bricks-and-mortar retailers, not only during a period where visits to physical stores are limited, but also in the long-term.â€ť The report also found that while Australian shoppers still prefer to purchase groceries in-store and are returning to physical locations, the emphasis of omnichannel still applies. â€śPost-pandemic, it is likely that many of those who recently started purchasing groceries online will continue to use this option in the long-term, or at least more frequently than pre-pandemic,â€ť Awad said. Dining at home The increase in consumers cooking and eating at home due to ongoing restrictions on hospitality venues and health concerns, spells good news for supermarkets and food retailers. â€śAs consumers continue to be concerned about the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus and try to avoid crowded places, grocery shoppers appear to be more organised, planning their meals in advance and spending more on groceries per trip,â€ť Awad said. Coles CEO Steven Cain said last week that the increase in small gatherings at home will boost supermarket and liquor sales; as will the higher numbers of people working from home in the run up to the holidays. Challenges of a Covid Christmas With consumers accustomed to the convenience of online shopping, the challenge for retailers will be delivering in-store experiences that are consistent with shoppersâ€™ expectations. â€śRetail spaces need to offer more than just a product showcase,â€ť Awad said. â€śThey need to offer a place to access experts who provide honest guidance and advice that help them narrow their choices and make the right purchasing decision.â€ť Knowledgeable brand ambassadors who provide a positive and engaging customer service experience will help retailers make the most of the holiday period, he explained. â€śOffering special experiences and services in-store not only attracts customers; it also gives them reasons to buy more, come back, and recommend the retailer to friends and colleagues.â€ť Supply chain pressures The influx of online orders expected in the coming months, is likely to place intense pressure on supply and delivery. Australia Post has already flagged delays over the Christmas period, following a record year for the postal service. Consumers have already been advised to adhere to a postage deadline of December 12 in order to guarantee parcel delivery before Christmas Day. There is also likely to be increased pressure on supply chains, particularly in grocery as consumers stock up in advance of celebrating the festive season at home. Should supermarkets experience low stock levels, like they did in March, it could result in consumers panic buying once again. Retailers in New Zealand are already reporting stock shortages stemming from supply chain delays. â€śThe big issues are reduced freight capacity down to New Zealand, as well as congestion at the Ports of Auckland and Tauranga. Stock is taking substantially longer to arrive from suppliers overseas, and retailers are needing to order much earlier,â€ť Retail NZ said in a statement this week. â€śThere is also concern in the retail community that a re-emergence of Covid-19 might lead to further lockdowns. These have the potential to be catastrophic in the short-term, particularly in the absence of strong Government support.â€ť Strain on stores Despite the online shopping boom, retailers will still need to be prepared to deal with crowds, particularly during peak periods. Adequate security measures will be essential to avoid overcrowding in stores. Some already have a queueing system in place in order to manage store limits, with floor markers also helpful in reminding shoppers about keeping distance. With consumers increasingly looking for speed and convenience, an efficient click-and-collect service, whether in a store or car park, will also be essential to avoid lengthy queues and overcrowding.