As the Covid-19 pandemic reshapes our world, one of the most heavily impacted sectors is the retail industry. With more people needing to stay home either by choice or through government-mandated lockdowns, retailers suffer the brunt of the economic slowdown. Not only do they have to contend with reduced sales volume due to decreased foot traffic and spending power, they also need to manage their fixed costs and supply chains even more efficiently. Add to that, the threat of forced closures by government, depending on the Covid-19 case levels, and what you have is an industry in a sink or swim mode fighting to survive.
However, all is not lost. The traditional brick and mortar retail industry maybe fighting for its survival, but e-commerce activity has surged in the last few months, creating its own kind of pandemic shift in consumer behavior.
The latest IBM US Retail Index reports that the pandemic has accelerated the shift toward e-commerce from physical stores by as much as five years. It has likewise seen a behaviour change toward good and services that consumers now deem as essentials – shifting from clothes to groceries and home improvement items as an example.
Globally, e-commerce is seen to continually grow and reach an estimated 22 percent of total retail sales by 2023. In the U.S., e-commerce is seen to grow to 15.5 percent by 2022.
As early as April, trade officials in the Pacific islands region held a workshop as part of the Pacific E-Commerce Initiative to talk about the region’s digital trade readiness, in areas such as access policy and regulatory environment, ITC infrastructure and skills, access to finance for e-commerce ventures, and digital payment systems.
In her opening remarks, Dame Meg Taylor, Pacific Islands Forum secretary general, noted “there is immense potential for e-commerce to help the Pacific region overcome its structural challenges. It is also crucial to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 and shape post-Covid recovery.” Hopefully, specific actions are put in place in order to leapfrog the region’s digital and e-commerce growth.
On Guam, a cursory look online shows how retailers have already started to innovate to adjust to the times. Macy’s has created a Style Crew with influencers posting on their social media pages their take on what interesting items are available. All the consumers need to do is click on the items they want to buy and schedule a curb side pickup.
Pay-Less Markets, Guam’s largest local grocery store chain, has likewise announced their online shopping with curbside pick-up, via apps downloadable on Google Play or The Apple Store.
In a press statement, Joy Calvo, e-commerce manager of Pay-Less Markets said “our team of personal shoppers are ready and committed to provide our ‘Hafa Adai’ Spirit to our online shopping community! Together, we promise to provide fresh quality products all packaged with care and topnotch service. This whole new shopping experience was crafted with our customers in the forefront of our mind.”
The online shopping feature allows customers to browse a wide selection of items ranging from fresh produce, meat, frozen foods, grocery, dairy, bakery and liquor. After the online order is placed, each customer is assigned a personal shopper who will put the pack the items.
Even smaller retailers and businesses have maximized their presence by using social media, either on their own pages or through market places that buy and sell items.
A majority have turned to curb side pickup and delivery to manage Covid-19 social distancing parameters. RunGuam, for example, has seen a good increase in their e-commerce revenues. “More people were running and doing outdoor activities when all the gyms and stores were closed. They were purchasing new active wear on our site and took advantage of our local shipping specials,” said Sherwin Paet, one of the owners of RunGuam. Kaz Endo, a known local started #SupportFoodToGoGuam, a group page on Facebook. “It’s a page with food only info to help support our local restaurants! The members can post anything about food – whether it’s to-go, dine-in, or others.”
In May, Glimpses of Guam launched the mallofguam.com, which offers a next-day delivery right to the customer’s doorstep for a flat fee of $10 per transaction from the entire mall.
The Mall of Guam is especially useful during a public health crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has severely restricted commercial activity on Guam, limiting the number of business establishments that remain open only to those that are deemed “essential.” mallofguam.com affords Guam consumers the ability to buy goods from Guam stores that were closed due to the imposition of restrictions following the public health crisis.
On its website, the Mall of Guam introduced itself as a platform “created for locals by locals who believe in investing in our community and supporting the local population.”
It noted the virtue of buying local to help sustain the local island economy. "We provide employment to our people. We pay local taxes. We promote our own products. And because the products are already on Guam, customers receive their orders much faster – within one day or less," the Mall of Guam said.
Sharleen Marcheassault, director the Glimpses Advertising Agency, said 25 local retail partners have signed up with the Mall of Guam.
“More being added weekly. Interest has been strong and some retailers have held back due to concerns over keeping up with inventory,” Marcheassault said. “Since the launch of the Mall of Guam website, we have seen over 50 percent increase in traffic to the site.”
This development on e-commerce is quite good for Guam. Industry statistics show that internet penetration on Guam is high at 83 percent and continues to grow by about 4 percent annually. Almost 100 percent of those who access the internet through their mobile devices access social media platforms. Therefore, maximizing social media presence becomes key to unlocking e-commerce success. To this end, what Guam retailers are doing is headed on the right path.
Will e-commerce succeed on Guam? Will it completely change the island’s shopping and dining landscape? The trends happening on Guam now looks promising.
The future may be unknown and your guess is as good as mine. However, the pandemic will continue to change the way we live. As we learn to adapt to the new realities, there’s hope that businesses can continue to thrive. Transforming the way they engage with their consumers and fixing their operations to become more efficient is the way to go, whether it’s online or not, or a combination of both. That in itself is a pandemic shift.