Lasting wisdom: Lessons from the pandemic for retail businesses

Lasting wisdom: Lessons from the pandemic for retail businesses


Shiv Joshi

Shiv Joshi

156 week ago — 5 min read

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. It also makes us wiser. This is true for businesses as well. Surviving a crisis isn’t enough. Being able to thrive and sustain in the long run requires reflecting on what the adversity has taught us and applying those lessons to the business. The pandemic has taught us all many things. Most of all, it has taught us to open our minds to new ways of thinking, operating, living and doing business.


Here are some lessons from the pandemic for retail businesses.


Expect the unexpected. And plan for it

We have all learnt the hard way how status quo can get disrupted, overnight. It is therefore important to plan for all eventualities and put processes and systems in place that should kick in should anything go wrong. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the business environment for many organisations around the globe, and has highlighted the importance of being able to react, adapt and set up crisis management mechanisms in order to weather situations of uncertainty,” observed the World Economic Forum on its website. Think long, think 360 degrees, keep it flexible. Flexibility is a prerequisite to resilience.


Act swiftly

This becomes easy when you have a plan in place. Swift action requires quick decision making. Keep a decision-making structure in place for contingencies that includes who will approve what and the chain of command to follow. This should allow your organisation to cut the usual red tape and managerial layers that lead to slow decision making. Doing so helped a UK grocer close its fresh meat and fish counters and reassign its staff to other jobs in just a single meeting—a decision that would have otherwise taken weeks. Keep it diverse to include different functions, kept it tight and keep it short.


Keep the communication channels open
The lockdowns set in motion a flurry of activities. It opened new channels of communication not just inside the organisation but also with external stakeholders. As things go back to normal, it will pay to keep the communication going even without the need for it. So when the time comes, the existing network and relationships can be leveraged which will save a lot of time and effort and enable quicker resolution of issues.


Nurture the ecosystem
The pandemic compelled businesses to have a hard look at their supply chains. Going forward supply chains will be about an ecosystem with a complex structure rather than a simple linear chain of one-to-one relationships. It will be about symbiotic buyer-seller relationships and not transactional.

There should be open dialogue between buyers and sellers in times of struggle. Enterprises will need to work with suppliers, advising them and helping solve issues for the benefit of the entire ecosystem.


Stay with the tech
The crisis pushed even the naysayers towards technology in whatever little way they could. But embracing technology is as much about changing mindsets as it is about changing processes and systems. Technology will continue to be critical to survival in the next normal. Keep the ball rolling on that front. Invest in digital and other technologies, explore more ways of incorporating simple tech-enabled enhancements into the business and empower staff to use the technology.


Keep imagination alive

Create a culture of imagination. Encourage the ability to create, evolve, and exploit mental models of things or situations that don’t yet exist in employees. According to Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller of BCG, “Imagination is the crucial factor in seizing and creating new opportunities, and finding new paths to growth.” Keeping imagination alive helps organisations be proactive rather than reactive when calamity strikes. “With imagination, we can do better than merely adapting to a new environment — we can thrive by shaping it,” they observe.


Also read: Leading in the new reality

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Article published in STOrai Magazine.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, official policy or position of GlobalLinker.

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