PCR Dec/Jan 21 Retail analysis: 2020’s COVID crisis transitions into 2021’s recovery phase

Nobody could have predicted what 2020 held in store. A year depicted by yesteryear’s sci-fi novels as the epitome of the future, but having now reached that year and come out the other side into 2021, it’s time for the channel to reflect on the lessons learned and grow stronger in the wake of the pandemic, as Michelle Winny finds out.

Turning to the Channel, Target Components, Scott Frankling says: “It’s fair to say that 2020 packed a few surprises, not least for the huge number of people who found themselves working from home. Doing the same job but often without the level of technology they’ve been used to at work, led to a huge demand for the devices needed to turn spare rooms, kitchens and living rooms into makeshift and part-time office spaces.”

Speaking about the role of the reseller in 2020 he points out that many organisations had to broaden to facilitate this transition as individual IT departments strained under the pressure of getting their staff settled, “Improving home networks under the increased requirements of families being inside much more, upgrading and installing new equipment for business use, installing home security, all inside the same building, become increasingly common requirements.”

“Add to this the number of companies reportedly foregoing corporate premises as the huge cost does not now align with the number of occupants allowed, and it’s also likely that businesses are going to have to spend a significant proportion of those savings on getting their workers equipped at home.”

“As home-working becomes the longer term solution, replicating the set-up in the office becomes a priority and we’re seeing increased demand for webcams, PCs, printers, desks, monitors and monitor arms.”

“And, as people are spending more time at home, they’re also wanting to upgrade their domestic technology with labour-saving, wellbeing-enhancing smart devices, better routers than those provided by their ISPs and home entertainment solutions for the whole family, with PCs acting as entertainment hubs becoming increasingly popular,” says Frankling.

“The need for custom PCs and upgrades to cope with the latest gaming requirements, as well as new peripherals, webcams, capture cards, improved audio and displays, is going to keep resellers busy, even after the Christmas rush and well into 2021,” he predicts.

Focusing on the positives, Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and co-founder at Aqilla says: “The channel has benefited enormously in 2020 from the demand required to supply remote/flexible working solutions to thousands of businesses. With that demand met, I believe the focus in 2021 will change to shoring up robust, centralised infrastructure to service the needs of the augmented workplaces we are becoming more familiar with in these times.”

In terms of the business application space he says, “We anticipate growth in many value-added and technology channel relationships as people continue to adapt to the new normal, both in the UK and the rest of the world. Whilst I think this will again benefit the larger channel players, a re-balancing of the supply ecosystem will become necessary to develop and maintain materially engaged relationships between the manufacturers, developers, distributors, resellers with what is ultimately the most important component in the whole value chain – the customer.”

Gregg Lalle, SVP international sales & strategy at ConnectWise continues the optimism for the New Year, “2021 has a lot of potential. As more companies have moved to an “anywhere operations business” the opportunities for the channel will only increase. Whether that’s moving data and applications into the cloud, deploying a unified communications platform, delivering managed security services to firms that needed additional protection, or simply implementing a permanent solution to a hastily implemented application rolled out to counter the overnight remote working environment. The scope is wide. And it’s there for taking.”

However, Lalle believes there where there are winners, there are inevitably losers – and 2021 won’t be as good for all firms, “For those with a heavy reliance on physical products and that have not shifted to offering/embracing services, they will continue to miss the digital transformation movement. They’ll have lost out heavily in 2020 and the longer term prospects for them don’t look good at all.”

Speaking about the technologies that will drive demand over the next 12 months he says it will be, “Security, big data analytics, anywhere operations and unified communications that will all be major driving factors for the new more permanent work from home revolution.”

Jonathan Bowl, AVP & general manager, UK, Ireland & Nordics at Commvault says one of the biggest trends the company is seeing is prioritising being cyber-ready, “The increase in cybercrime last year has been front and centre, and as many organisations work remotely with sensitive data in often insecure places, cybersecurity is more important than ever before. The channel is in the perfect position to help organisations boost their cybersecurity measures to protect against potential threats. We’re also seeing an increase in cloud technologies and as-a-Service offerings – hybrid cloud will really accelerate in the UK into 2021, and so the channel, being able to offer solutions that simplify this technology is crucial as it takes the heavy lifting away from customers.”

The key is to consolidate
Greg Bailey, director channel and cloud EMEA at Zerto offers his outlook: “We’re still seeing a lot of uncertainty within the channel as we head into 2021. Partners and users alike will want to see vendors that understand both their business issues – helping to drive more flexible commercial models and terms – and how to become more aligned in solving those issues collaboratively.”

Bailey believes the key is to consolidate, “Partners and vendors can work together to drive lower total-cost-of-ownership and higher return on investment for end users. Vendors don’t need radical restructuring. Partners still want vendors who understand them and their business, who are driving a USP, creating trusted partnerships and enabling them in solving key business issues. It’s not a question of ‘how cheap can we make it?’ – it’s about building value, not decreasing cost.”

“2020 saw many organisations turn to technology to help them operate through the COVID-19 pandemic – whether they were automating processes to cut costs, or simply wanted to make staff more efficient. As a knock on from that, there is no doubt that users will want greater insights in 2021.”

Bailey continues, “We can expect to see organisations become smarter with their access to data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Analytics and monitoring tools can be applied to almost any platform and businesses are looking at how they can use these to drive better and smarter decisions. They want to know how they can work with greater predictability in an unpredictable world. For example, an organisation already using analytics for data protection can now feed this into a third party platform that leverages AI, recognises patterns, and uses these metrics to predict where or when their next ransomware attack might come from.”

Bailey believes we will also see a greater drive for vendors to look at what the channel does best: “leverage scale and utilise presence. The role of the vendor is to know how to work to generate leads and drive new client opportunities, but it’s equally important to know how to elevate and optimise the existing client base proactively. With so many resellers becoming service providers – or using partnerships to deliver ‘as-a-service’ models – the financial flexibility will be greater than ever.”

Speaking about the ways Zerto is working to meet these expectations in 2021 he says: “We are driven to influence more, unlock greater opportunity through programmes and meet user needs by focusing on the right partners. We want to optimise commercial channels and technology through Zerto Data Protection and support for containers. We will continue to lead in the areas we have always led, and will not only invest in those aiming to prevent cyber attacks, but those recovering as well.”

Optimise service offering
Rob Shaw, MD EMEA at Fluent Commerce points out the vital need to optimise service offering both online and in store to encourage shoppers back and to continue spending, “As we head into 2021, and ‘browsing’ goes almost entirely digital, it is absolutely crucial to not only show inventory online, but to make sure it is accurate and up to date. We’ve heard from many instances recently where people went to stores where there was, according to the website, stock available – only to be told that in fact there wasn’t any left. Whilst showing this on the website is great, not being able to deliver on that promise can backfire spectacularly by making consumers choose a different retailer altogether for that purchase. Reliability will be more important than ever so that no customer feels they are “wasting a trip to the shops”.

“Retailers also need to think about what makes people want to come into stores – to try on and test things, but also, human contact and interaction – and then ensure they can deliver on that. We have noticed that a lot of retailers have started pulling back on their store experiences by having less staff and also less stock available in stores. This is understandable under the current constraints but it needs to be carefully balanced against customer expectation when they do come into a store – as disappointed customers are less likely to return,” Shaw adds.

Speaking about safety and convenience as drivers for customer preferences post-pandemic he says: “The Apparel Digital Maturity Benchmark Report found that shoppers are twice as likely to order online for store pick-up than to make an in-store purchase over the next six months. Retailers need to think about both how they can maximise their margins on store fulfilled orders (by optimising their pick and pack processes, for example) and also about how they can make the most out of this store traffic with upselling strategies. Our clients report that one in five customers who come to collect an order pick up something else in the store. There will be ways to build on this to increase store sales.”

Whilst Martin Taylor, deputy CEO and co-founder at Content Guru says: “What is clear is that retailers will be operating in a tough environment for the foreseeable future, with consumer confidence dented significantly by worries about job security, and in many cases actual unemployment. The most successful retailers will be those who offer not just the safest shopping experience, but the best customer service.

“As and when retail reopens, so will the channels through which customers will be communicating with their favourite brands and stores. Let’s not forget the impact that re-opening shops will have on contact centre and engagement hub staff around the UK. Ensuring all channels of communication are open – for enquiries or to return items – will be crucial to managing the increased flow of customers venturing out into physical stores,” Taylor points out.

He continues, “As the demand for customer service increases, retailers will need to think about the kind of contact centre environment they are providing and how they are protecting their employees. Proper social distancing in a physical shop is difficult – in a traditional contact centre it is nearly impossible. Many organisations are being forced to operate reduced capacity customer service models. Retailers would be wise to consider adopting cloud technology for their contact centres, to enable agents to work and transact, effectively and compliantly, from home.”

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