Latin woman owner of small business. Entrepreneurial woman working in her clothing store. Wearing face mask

As the retail industry readies for the peak of the holiday shopping season, two just-released surveys show that despite the impact of COVID-19, retailers have some powerful tools to help them succeed and build customer loyalty. This includes focusing on employee training and leadership development as well as improving customer service (especially for smaller-sized businesses).

Multimedia Plus, the training and communications technology firm, released a COVID-19 impact survey that measures the impact of the pandemic “on pressing retail and hospitality industry issues focused on technology, training and spending priorities,” the company said, adding that the methodology included polling 246 senior-level executives in the retail and hospitality sectors.

Multimedia Plus identified new employee training and communications as priorities as well as a demand for contactless payment solutions.

The survey showed that leadership development was a top priority for 24 percent of respondents, followed by safety with 22 percent, new operations training with 18 percent and product knowledge with 13 percent.

Authors of the report also noted that “fears of new closures weigh heavily” on those polled. “When asked their greatest concern going into the holiday season, an overwhelming 52 percent responded new pandemic closures,” the report stated.

In regard to staffing, 36.5 percent of respondents said recruiting sales associates was their biggest challenge. Scheduling was second with 17.6 percent. And when asked about 2021, 47.8 percent of respondents expect IT investments to remain the same as this year while 31 percent expect it to increase by 10 percent or more.

David Harouche, chief executive officer and chief technology officer of Multimedia Plus, said with the continued spread of COVID-19, “it’s not surprising that the executives being polled are most concerned about the prospects of new closures.”

“Right now, their focus has been to roll out new employee training and communications and for many contactless payments,” he added. “Looking forward to 2021, what’s most interesting is that for the majority their focus is shifting to developing their leaders and to continue to train on safety. When budgeting for 2021, the majority are either increasing or maintaining IT budgets.”

The report noted that retail leaders “must focus on the future using creative thinking to stay ahead of the curve for business growth, particularly in challenging times.”

“Leadership that is able to prioritize the safety of guests and associates, assess the resilience of the supply chain, and manage new work environments like remote teams, in addition to the ongoing challenges of businesses in normal times, will have a brighter future,” the report stated.

In a separate report by The Main Tab, a survey of small business retailers identified customer service and “curated luxury platform” as key business drivers. “Customer loyalty is a savior,” the authors of the report said. “An overwhelming 94 percent of small retailers are counting on customer loyalty and customer service for their business.”

The Main Tab also said wholesale marketplaces are playing a more important role this year, stating that 66 percent of retailers “have adapted wholesale marketplaces to centralize their discovery and buying journey.” The survey also revealed that 81 percent of retailers “adjusted their offerings at their store. Universally, at-home-goods had and continue to have large demand.”

The Main Tab offers independent retailers a business-to-business platform for product and assortment curations. Liseda Shelegu, founder of the company, said the survey “reinforces our understanding of the important role small businesses retailers play not only in their local areas, but as a driver of jobs and innovation.”

“Customer service is playing an essential role in helping independent businesses and the brands they sell to survive the global pandemic,” Shelegu said adding that her company is helping retailers create curated, online luxury marketplaces that can be “easily pivoted” based on market demands.

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