My Column

Shop till cull could store up trouble

  • Date: Wednesday 17th March 2021
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I’ve discussed the evolution of the UK retail sector many times over the last few years and I can’t be the only one to wonder how our high streets will look once we navigate through these current unchartered waters.

The pandemic isn’t the only situation that has nearly brought our high street to its knees. We’ve experienced recessions and had to watch as businesses battled to stay afloat.

Despite the current wave of problems which businesses of all sizes are facing, it is interesting to see the sector continue to evolve through its use of technologically and rise to each and every challenge.

It seems like it was only a few years ago that self-checkouts arrived and revolutionised the way we shopped, but in actual fact they arrived in the UK way back in 2003. The latest development to hit our highstreets has seen check-outs removed completely and it is Amazon which is currently leading the way.

The Amazon Fresh store arrived in London last week, which is the first of its kind outside of the USA.

The concept is simple, customers scan a QR code on the way into the shop and then just ‘walk out’ with their groceries as the many cameras and sensors instore track purchases.

It’s not yet arrived in Scotland, but as the launch has seemingly been seen as successful and Amazon are set to open more stores across London, I predict it won’t be long until they are launched UK-wide.

It seems that it’s not just the UK and America which is getting involved, a company in Sweden have launched mobile shops which also offer a similar concept.

Lifvs is focusing on bringing no staff or checkout stores to rural parts of the country where buyers can shop locally without having to go to the closest city.

You open the doors of the shop via the app which works with a banking ID app and buyers scan barcodes to register their purchases.

The Swedish brand are looking to expand further, which could see stores across Europe pop up in the near future within rural areas in need of local shops.

In Asia, it has also been reported that Alibaba are trialling unstaffed stores in urban locations.

I’m intrigued by this new concept, an idea which could make all of our lives easier if it catches on and other retailers decide to go down this route, however there are still issues with self-scan checkouts which makes me sceptical of just how simple it really is.

How often do you find yourself waiting for an employee to confirm that you’ve bagged all of your items?

The concept could also work for other sectors including banking which is why there are worries about retailers making job cuts.

Till-less stores means less staff and the worry about machines taking jobs has reared its head again. Simply put, unstaffed stores could equate to less employment and more problems. If competitors do follow suit and trial similar stores then this could have a negative impact on jobs.

Supermarkets are huge employers across the country and right now it is already difficult for those looking for work or those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic.

Another concern which I have is that it might not be completely accessible to all customers, such as the older generation, who might not be in touch with technology.

However the pandemic has forced many to get to grips with the latest technology in order to see family and friends through video calls, and use online shopping when the shops have been closed.

Like technology, we’ve all had to evolve ourselves and this could be one of the few benefits, which the pandemic has brought. Like many stores which have been cashless throughout lockdown – we’ve all learned and moved with the times.

It appears to make shopping easier so this should be seen as a positive, but with no word on when this new system will arrive in Scotland we will need to wait to experience it for ourselves.

 

Side (268 words)

I have been keeping an eye on the ongoing updates regarding US import and export tariffs. I was very pleased to have read that the US will be suspending tariffs on UK goods for four months whilst the UK and US governments discuss long term settlement options.

The tariffs have affected various UK products, such as cheese, cashmere, machinery and Scotch single malt whisky to name a few. The lifting of duties will be seen as a huge positive step forward for the Scottish drinks industry - a sector that has boomed in the last few years across the international trade market.

The imposed tariffs have hit the Scotch whisky trade in particular, as the US is one of the key figures in the export market. With distilleries having reported around £500m worth of losses since 2019. However, I am hopeful the continued discussion will see a significant turn in revenues for whisky businesses across Scotland.

The ongoing public interest in the Scottish produced beverages was highlighted last weekend, after Aberdeenshire based distillers Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky was featured on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch programme.

Following the rave reviews from the presenters and guests on the show, one of Duncan Taylor’s Octave whiskies sold out in a record time of eight minutes – proving both the popularity of Scotch whisky at the moment and that of television advertising.

The company was featured in a nod to International Women’s Day with its CEO Moji Shand and half of her employees being women. I hope the lifting of these tariffs enable this fantastic business even more success at home and overseas.

 

Laugh (130 words)

In a time where news stories seem to bring little joy, a release about a new appointment at a major discount shoe retailer certainly caught my attention.

It made me laugh earlier this week when I read a story about Terry Boot replacing Peter Foot as Shoe Zone’s financial director.

Despite the story highlighting the company’s losses, the irony of the saying ‘if the shoes fits’ was certainly not lost with the new FD appointment.

The high street downturn was highlighted by Shoe Zone’s financial results as the business said it had to negotiate new rents and pay redundancy costs, however its digital revenues grew from £10.6 million to £19.3 million.

It appears we will be solely relying on online retail to recover revenues until shops are permitted to reopen. 

 

Weep (134 words)

I have been following the recent coverage celebrating International Women’s Day, with a big focus being on the push for equality for women in sport.  

Although, to do so we need to showcase the achievements of some of our most high-profile professionals, it appears there still is not enough platforms willing to support the third most popular sport in Scotland – netball.

Netball Scotland launched their #HeadlinesNotSidelines campaign for International Women’s Day and despite this fantastic idea, unfortunately and perhaps unsurprisingly the sport still did not receive the recognition and support it deserves.

How are we to encourage the future generation of netballers to feel confident in taking up such a diverse and welcoming sport if the professionals are not given the same platform male footballers, rugby players or golfers are given in this country?

 

 

 

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