Communication is Key in Supporting Symbol Group Retailers

In our new HIM MCA Convenience Market Report, we forecast that the Convenience Market will grow by 8% in 2020, compared to 2019’s more subdued 2.6%. A main driver behind this substantial expected channel growth is of course Coronavirus, as the retail market faces unparalleled sales volumes due to lockdown.

During this fast-paced and challenging time independent retailers have had to be reactive yet considered, bold yet cautious, creative yet compliant – but above all, these essential workers have supported their communities.

In turn, wholesalers and symbol groups have had to be supportive towards their members, offering accessible and consistent communication, dependable product availability and a reliable delivery service. Last month, HIM MCA, on behalf of Blakemore Trade Partners, conducted a bespoke piece of research to understand whether these support efforts had been felt by symbol retailers, in order to ensure high standards were achieved and are maintained.

In general, it is a positive story for the channel with just over 7 in 10 symbol group retailers stating their symbol group’s ‘support for them’ during the pandemic had either been better or much better than usual. The top support initiatives that symbol groups rolled out during the pandemic were ‘news updates’, ‘marketing support’ and ‘materials support (e.g. floor stickers)’.

The areas where support was strongest felt were ‘communication about the pandemic in general’ and ‘customer service availability’ – both of which 77% of responses were positive.

Blakemore Trade Partners in particular excelled in these areas. Their members were 30% more likely to rate ‘customer service availability’ positively compared to other symbol group retailers, and 20% more likely to score ‘communication about the pandemic in general’ positively.

Another area where they over-performed was in their ‘communication about product availability and limitations’. Nearly 8 in 10 of their retailers responded positively, which was 27% higher than for other symbol groups.

Product availability was, understandably, a key issue during the pandemic. Around three quarters of all symbol retailers said they experienced fewer products available online and a similar number said they experienced missing or replaced products in their order.

However, whilst Blakemore Trade Partners’ members were only 7pp less likely to have experienced product unavailability issues online, their dissatisfaction with availability was a disproportionate 12pp lower.

Whilst a generally more positive ordering experience contributes to their availability satisfaction being disproportionately higher, for example due to their retailers being 42% less likely to have experienced a reduction in delivery slots, the main thing that this highlights is the importance of transparency. Clear communication around product shortfalls installed greater understanding from their members, and hence their dissatisfaction was lower.

Lockdown is easing, but the new normal is not yet upon us. The forecast for retailers is still uncertain and support from symbol groups and wholesalers remains crucial. The key learning here is that support initiatives such as offering marketing materials are important, but strong communication must be a priority for all.


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