Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel session at the eTail Nordic virtual event. Our discussion was focused on different retailers’ experiences of the pandemic and how it has impacted their business operations and strategic objectives. Joining me in this discussion were executives from Apoteket (a pharmacy and general retailer, similar to Boots, Walgreens, or DM), ICA (a grocery retailer), Intersport (sports equipment and apparel), and Uberall (solutions partner supporting brands with their online experience).

We all agreed that 2020 has been a year of managing the unexpected and the unprecedented! From store closures during pandemic lockdowns forcing consumers online to shifts in consumer spending and purchasing habits, these retailers continue to manage the impact of the pandemic on their customer experiences. But when it came to the impact on strategic objectives? Everyone agreed the pandemic did not change anything — but it accelerated the need to execute on what they already had on their list!

Some of the highlights from our discussion include:

Continually managing changes to consumer behavior and shopping patterns. Over the course of this year, retailers have had to manage changes in consumer behavior and spending patterns. For Apoteket, older consumers with less experience of digital interactions were also forced online during pandemic lockdowns, prompting the need for more specific service and support for this group of customers. While ICA (along with many grocery retailers the world over!) dealt with demand surges from stockpiling, Intersport also saw an unusual surge in demand for at-home sports equipment and running gear — meaning it had to adapt its assortment plans and stock levels fast!

Adapting to the knock-on effect to internal processes and operations. During the pandemic lockdowns, Forrester’s consumer surveys demonstrated a shift in consumer spending to essential items, including food and household items. For ICA, there was also a shift in shopping patterns, with more people shopping on behalf of others. This caused havoc for the “normal” mechanisms for promotions and upsell via CRM systems and analytics algorithms, forcing marketing teams to switch these mechanisms off and find alternative solutions.

Accelerating the rollout of planned initiatives — like ship-from-store. For Apoteket, the pandemic has meant a three to five times increase in e-commerce volumes, while store traffic declined. With increased e-commerce sales also comes a surge in delivery volumes, prompting Apoteket to bring forward a plan to use local stores to fulfill online orders — taking pressure off its warehouse, optimizing stock allocation, and improving delivery times.

More engaged (brand) partner relationships. As consumers have depended more heavily on digital commerce during the pandemic, brand partners have also taken notice and adapted how they work with retail partners. For Intersport, it has seen much more involvement and support for improving digital customer experiences (including financial) from brand partners.