Toilet paper vs brands: a retail story in times of Coronavirus

The Coronavirus cost the UK retail an arm and a leg, maybe even more than that. The Blitzkrieg brought upon by the pandemic forced established retailers to go back to the drawing board and find new ways of keeping their heads above water. “We launched an eBay shop in a week”, said the chief executive of a niche fashion retailer, bewildered by their own achievement. 

However, as unsold clothes and other nonimmediate-necessity goods started to pile up in closed shops all over the country, big established retailers like Zara, Poundstretcher, Travis Perkins, even Debenhams had to close a lot of their shops. A closed shop means more jobless people, no more rent for the landlord and the chain of effects can go on. Enough beating around the bush, let’s get to the main question. 

Has Coronavirus changed the face of retail for good?


Too big a question to entirely answer here and now, (we’ll leave the “meaty” bit for a future in-depth BDD research). However, we can’t help but notice how much out-of-fashion the designer’s clothes have become in comparison to, say… toilet paper. 

Let’s look at some basic data: 

  • In May, ¾ non-food retailers were expecting a disruption of more than six months, but they were optimistic about a short-term recovery 

  • By the end of May, optimism ran out and the short-term recovery expectations turned into 6 months 

  • 79% of retailers expected their revenue to decline in Q4 2020 

  • 43% of Britons felt uncomfortable shopping anywhere other than in supermarkets 

  • ¼ of Britons thought that the crisis would permanently change the way they shop 

  • Supermarkets and local convenience stores enjoyed soaring sales as shoppers rushed to restock their immediate-necessity goods 

  • In May, like-for-like sales increased by 7.9%, compared to the same period, last year 

When toilet paper became more important than brands’ clothes 

Zara was one of the first to announce the closing of up to 1,200 stores all across the world. Many other UK retailers quickly followed this “trend”. Poundstretcher planned on closing more than half of its UK stores, in order to keep afloat, in case the landlord would not agree to cut rent. 

The builders’ merchant, Travis Perkins is cutting 2,500 jobs and closing 165 stores, as it expects weaker demand for materials in the next two years. 

Virgin Media has announced no plans of reopening their network of retail stores. They took that decision as a result of changes in customer’s behaviour. 

Debenhams is another big retail player cutting jobs and closing three stores. The declining sales are taking a toll on most retailers. Even the cutting of prices did not work, as customers were still hesitant in opening their wallets and spending again. 

On the other hand, supermarkets and the local convenience stores thrived from the crisis, with people growing more reluctant to travel long distances to buy their necessities. The major cause of these disruptions is the change in demand, of course. 

There are five main trends that are expected to seriously dictate the demand in these times: 

  1. The most obvious is the rise of online and digital purchasing. 

  2. People want to keep it local, healthy, and safe; hence the growth of the local convenience stores. 

  3. The ever-growing employment uncertainty is also affecting the demand. 

  4. Value for money becomes a major player in the purchasing deciding process. The luxury goods were gravely outperformed by the necessity goods. Toilet paper became more popular than a designer’s purse, should we dare say. 

  5. Less brand love. 

So, was it really a toilet paper vs brands’ clothes battle in the retail sector following the Coronavirus pandemic? Metaphorically speaking it was, and funny enough, it won. Of course, the long-term implications are more complex than this, and we’ll keep our promise and get back to you with an updated, in-depth account of the UK retail trends, short and long-term viable solutions. 

Follow us for more at Biz Dev Dynamics

#bizdevdynamics #ukmanufacturing