Study: Successful retailers hurt more by COVID-19, unrest than less successful ones

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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The volatility and disruptions of 2020 impacted high-performing retailers more than their peers.

That’s according to a RSR Research survey of retailers in North America, the E.U., and U.K, which found that retail “winners” with comparable store/channel sales growth above the industry average of 4.5% were more likely to report having a “lot of impact” from a number of disruptions during 2020 than their average-performing or lagging competitors. 

This disparity was found in disruptions including COVID-19 (70% of winners/55% of all other retailers), changes in customer expectations (58%/48%), weather events (42%/14%), social unrest (41%/27%), and boycotts (39%/23%). As to why the most successful retailers would be affected the most, RSR Research said that retailers experiencing the highest volume of sales would logically most feel the effects of the unprecedented volatility of the past year.

Another interesting disparity in how retailers are impacted by disruptions occurred in how retailers of different sizes have been affected by changing customer expectations. For example, 63% of the smallest respondents (less than $500 million in annual revenue) reported this as an issue, compared to only $48% of Tier 1 respondents with more than $5 billion in annual revenue). With smaller retailers depending on their intimate knowledge of their customers to remain competitive, RSR Research cautions this is not good news for small retail.

In addition, respondents in the grocery vertical were most likely to report being impacted by social unrest (63%), which RSR Research attributes to grocery stores staying open throughout the disruptions of 2020 as “essential” businesses.

The study also examined the leading business challenges retailers face in regard to store employees. Across all respondents, the top three store employee challenges were ensuring consistency of corporate directives across the chain (48%), increasing organizational visibility and control of store operations (47%), and delivering customer orders for store pickup accurately and efficiently (44%). 

Other common challenges included delivering customer orders outside the store in a convenient and accurate manner (42%), delivering customer orders for curbside pickup in a convenient and accurate manner (42%), enhancing the speed and accuracy of labor budgets that better align with each store (40%), and offering a conscientious, safe and consistent shopping experience in stores (37%).