And there we have it. The UK locked down again until March. Little surprise, but unlike its predecessors, this time it’s different. Both retailers and consumers have had time to prepare in both foresight and previous experience.

This is particularly true in the delivery network – an ecosystem that has coped incredibly well given the near-constant pressures it has been faced with. But, irrespective of the learnings and the fact that the ‘natural’ peaks of Black Friday and Christmas are well in the rear-view mirror, we are faced with a new set of challenges that will mark 2021 as a defining year.

Only last week Royal Mail published a list of 28 areas suffering from limited delivery services as more of its workforce is affected by Covid-19. Elsewhere, a repeat of panic buying caused supermarket websites to crash once more as delivery slots became more coveted than a popular toy at Christmas. When we throw in the strict new Brexit red tape that has stretched delivery networks and consider the ways consumer expectations have accelerated in recent times; we’re going to see these trends emerge within the delivery sector throughout 2021 – not only to keep up with the pace of change but to eventually thrive in a post-COVID world.

Backing brand Britain

Perhaps the first trend we’re seeing, though most likely in the short-term, is a real focus on ‘brand Britain’ both in terms of consumer behaviour and in product delivery. Earlier this month John Lewis axed its international delivery service and this followed a number of other British retailers temporarily scrapping their shipping to the EU. Indeed, John Lewis made the point explicitly that its decision is not related to Brexit but was part of a new strategy to focus on the UK market as it struggles to trade.

The main driver for others, though, is likely to be the complications of international market access, given the wider-market challenges. We’re expecting to see more and more retailers and carriers start to move their operations into European hubs in the medium term, as they turn to ‘in-country’ fulfilment and delivery to combat cross-border complexities. On the consumer side, we’re seeing momentum in the movement to back British as part of an unofficial drive to aid economic recovery with an element of Amazon-fatigue setting in.

Hangry for final mile delivery

Delivery services have become all the rage. So much so that last week Deliveroo announced that it is expanding to cater for the whole of the UK. And getting food to people quickly makes sense. After all, people with winter junk food cravings rarely like to be kept waiting. But why stop with food? Bringing the product to the people is key now.

As a result, partnerships with last-mile delivery companies increasingly make sense as retailers seek to leverage their physical stores – in the form of ‘ship from store’ models to fulfill locally placed online orders. With a new breed of customers seeking instant gratification, lifting stock from a local store – and in turn, relying on local distribution networks – enables brands to keep on the pulse, fulfilling orders as quickly as they’re made using previously untapped stock, and relieving pressure on national distribution hubs.

Total control

No longer will customers dance to the beat of a retailer – they want to order, pay, track and receive on their own terms via whatever means available. With this expectation comes the need for retailers to lead with a tech-first strategy that delivers a truly connected CX and empowers customers to engage with the brand.

With many of us sitting at home and twiddling our thumbs, deliveries have become the highlight of the day for customers, so the stakes are heightened. Customers now expect to have visibility into every touchpoint of the delivery journey and want to make instant changes to their order in real time – no questions asked. Advanced operational technologies will therefore need to be the number one focus for retailers to give customers a 5* post-purchase experience.

Differentiation by delivery

We’ve reached a point where delivery is not just a hygiene factor in the purchase but a key differentiator in how and why people spend. Amazon made this move years ago with Prime but that was in regard to speed and ease. No doubt it worked (and some) but I’m talking here about the customer’s journey. Rigorously high-standards of delivery communications, personalised options, locations, and even providers.

With 31% of all retail purchases in the UK are now made online, now is the time for retailers to transform how products reach their customers and Bicester Village Shopping Outlet offers one such example. Despite being a physical shopping destination, it has pivoted to offer an online personalised click and collect and home-delivery propositions vastly different from its former in-store shopping model. Why?  Because that’s what their customers expect.

Now, the industry needs to tread our path to recovery. In spite of the uncertainty and disruption thrown at the sector this year, one thing that is abundantly clear is that retail will not give up without a fight. Indeed, PwC anticipates that most sectors, including retail, will return to growth in 2021. This is going to make the delivery network increasingly important. Not just in terms of moving goods from A to B, but as a cornerstone of the UKs economic recovery in the post-Brexit and post-COVID world. Indeed, ‘post’ will be the name of the game in 2021.

[Source: David Grimes, founder and CEO, Sorted]

By Alison