Coronavirus: Shaken retailers dream of digital rebirth

By MAX MADDISON, JOURNALIST
2 HOURS AGO JULY 31, 2020 •

Retailers are being battered by falling consumer confidence, but with shoppers migrating online en masse, many expect the pandemic to transform the face of retail.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s third survey of business conditions and confidence reveals a resurgence of infections in Melbourne and Sydney is playing havoc with business confidence.

ACCI chief economist Ross Lambie said insights from the upcoming survey demonstrated that concerns about the outbreak were flowing into investment and employment decisions.

“From the cohort of businesses who have already responded to our latest survey, the decline in revenue has stabilised at exceptionally low levels compared to last year,” Dr Lambie said.

“We are greatly concerned by what businesses are telling us. The combination of low revenue, ongoing costs and debt repayments about to restart is painting a grim picture for the future for many Australian small
businesses.”

Sean Venturi, founder and designer of leisurewear brand Venroy, saw sales “fell off a cliff” in March and purchases tumble again as the outbreak in Melbourne deteriorated, despite his retail stores being based solely
in Sydney and Brisbane.

However, he believes shoppers are slowly acclimatising to the strange new reality of the virus.

“Most people are really re active. As soon as there’s a little bit of bad news, they’ll stop (buying),” Mr Venturi said.

“So there was a pretty instant sales drop off — probably 20 to 30 per cent — as soon as Melbourne started going backwards and we’re finding that it’s slowly crawling back — it’s kind of people are adjusting again.”

While the first outbreak caught many businesses off-guard, wiping $3.4bn from the retail sector in April alone, the lockdown period forced retailers to recalibrate their offerings into the online space, accelerating the movement towards digitalisation.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra said the pandemic had dragged retailers into the future, for better and for worse.

“There is going to be some immediate pain — the pandemic has been a huge disruptor and sped us towards the future in both good and bad ways,” he said.

“Retailers will be adapting to a new normal, and store footprints are likely to shrink as retailers transform themselves digitally.”

National Retailers Association boss Dominique Lamb said she expected to see shopfronts shrink in response to changing demand but “people still have a need to touch and feel items and enjoy the experience of shopping.

“We predict we will see smaller shop spaces, dedicated to specific consumer needs and wants moving forward,” Ms Lamb said.

Despite sales on Venroy’s online store trading at double compared with last year, Mr Venturi said shopfronts remained central to his retail strategy.

“A physical brick and mortar store is always going to be a better experience. It’s this touch, this feel, there’s a scent in the stores, there’s a personal experience.”

MAX MADDISON, JOURNALIST
Max Maddison is a reporter at The Australian. He graduated from a Bachelor of Politics, Economics and Social Sciences (Hons I) at the University of Sydney. He began working for the paper in 2015 as an Editorial…