Life is tough in retail and looks set to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Previous downturns show that the fittest survive and even thrive in such circumstances, so what strategies can help beat the downturn?

  1. What are you uniquely good at?

Businesses that came out of previous downturns even stronger were brands that had clear differentiation. They understood what they were good at and did even more of it. Use your brand and customer strategy to identify where to focus – and if you haven’t got a differentiated strategy, then working on it is your new number one priority.

  1. Are you a truly omnichannel operator or still working in channel silos?

Multiple routes to customers have been the secret to success so far this year and predictions are that online will stay at a higher level ongoing. Loyal bricks and mortar customers will want to continue shopping with a brand they trust but if the omnichannel experience isn’t easy or doesn’t feel like shopping with the brand they know and love, there are lots of other players who’ll be happy to scoop them up. How easy is it to navigate your site and place an order – especially for first timers? What routes to customer do you offer? Retailers are linking up with delivery partners such as Deliveroo to offer rapid access to favourite products. How easy are returns? M&S Food stores were convenient online parcel pick up hubs, yet only recently accepted non-food returns. Getting rid of barriers that make no sense to customers can only help you.

  1. Rebase your operating model 

Changes in shopping behaviours have made previous ways of working outdated and expensive. Use your workload models and workforce management systems to calculate the resource you need now and alter shift plans to fit the changed customer flow. Avoid the mistake of sticking with the way you used to do it and spending too much salary budget when it’s quiet and not having enough colleagues available to capitalise on the busier spells when customers are around.

If you haven’t got a workload model that calculates the hours you need, get on and build one – with or without a partner. If you wait until things get back to normal you could be waiting a long time and mis invest precious resources in the meantime.

  1. Stay agile 

Things are going to keep changing and the constant readjustments needed will feel uncomfortable. The fittest thrive, so make sure your operational core is working well and flexible enough to cope with the demands that variable business levels will throw at it. Your people are every bit as important as your systems. In every retailer there are quiet experts who know how to drive existing systems in a way that meets new demands. Make sure you understand who those people are and value them when there may be cost pressures to reduce head office teams.

  1. Try things and learn quickly

Now is a relatively low risk time to try transformation. This year has seen retailers make transformative changes in weeks that they’ve spent years working up to. Whether it’s setting up new routes to customers, forging new partnerships or rapidly developing IT changes; the best businesses are making the most of what feels like a transition period to set themselves up for success once business rebounds.

It is easy to plunge into a cycle of despondency when there is no clear end in sight to the most uncertain period many of us have lived through. The way to beat the downturn is to be flexible through changing times and be ready for better times that will surely come.

Simon Hedaux is founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity