08 May 2020

The new normal: retailers accelerate physical and digital integration

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As retailers gradually begin to re-open their stores, many are doing so with initiatives which converge the digital and physical channels in innovative ways.


There’s no doubt COVID-19 has created unprecedented disruptions for physical retailing, with many consumers staying at home while those who do venture out being required to observe physical distancing practices, reducing the number of customers allowed in stores at any one time and changing the way people can move around shopping centres.

Retailers have responded by boosting their pure online capabilities, but many of the new initiatives are accelerating a trend which was gaining momentum before COVID-19, the convergence of sales channels to create a hybrid physical and digital experience.

Faced with unprecedented challenges, the retail industry has been quick to adapt its business models and many of these changes will continue into the future.

For Harry Hartog Booksellers, this has meant boosting their online capability and introducing a free home delivery service for the first time as well as adapting their book recommendation service to be fully operational online. Book recommendations are created manually by expert booksellers across Australia. Customers can then opt to have their books delivered to directly to their home.

Harry Hartog Directors, David and Robert Berkelouw, said: “We have dedicated our careers to creating bookshops full of imagination, emotion and empathy. At a time when society needs them most, we have
been determined to keep supplying books, even from behind closed doors. We believe books have the power to create hope and to elevate us – even momentarily – from a world that has been overwhelmingly anxious and scared.”

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David (left) and Robert Berkelouw, Directors, Harry Hartog

In some cases, the current situation has brought forward innovations which retailers were planning for several years out, but which have been urgently fast-tracked as effective solutions for the unique lockdown period.

One example of this is the new drive-thru contactless click and collect service which is now available at all Westfield Living Centres, giving access to more than 540 retail brands with more signing on every week.

Westfield Direct enables customers to access multiple Westfield retailers in one online transaction, and pick-up in one, contactless stop at their local centre.

Orders come through to Westfield employees, known as ‘runners’, who take the items from each retail outlet to the drive-thru, updating customers by email at each stage of the process.

The platform gives consumers access to over 15,000 products across a variety of categories, from fresh food to lifestyle and everyday essentials.

Participating retailers include leading brands such as Harris Farm Markets, Bakers Delight, Betty’s Burgers, Haighs Chocolates and Boost in the food and beverage sector, along with lifestyle brands such as Aesop, Kidstuff, Harry Hartog, Kiehls, Papaya and many others. In New Zealand, retailers to recently join the platform include Inca by Nic Watt, Presshouse Café, Boba Bear, Hulucat Tea & Mocktail, Tai Ping, Tank, The Coffee Club and The Botanist Florist, with more to come.

Fiona Krawczyk, marketing manager for Haigh’s Chocolates, says the initiative has opened up a crucial channel which has enabled the company to continue to serve its customers and maintain local production.

“This new service helps customers support local and small businesses and in our case also the purchasing of Australian-made products, during a challenging time, and that can only be a good thing,” Krawczyk said.


At Bakers’ Delight, joint chief executive Elise Gillespie says bakery teams are working hard to ensure that customer who are staying at home still have access to the company’s popular products.

“Almost every one of our Westfield-based bakeries has jumped on board with this initiative,” Gillespie said.

“Feeding and supporting local communities has been a part of our DNA for decades and its during times like these that Aussie families need us more than ever.”

Scentre Group’s Director of Customer Experience, Phil McAveety, said the challenging conditions posed by the pandemic demanded an “agile response to the fast-changing needs of customers” and the company would continue to adapt.

Scentre Group was able to fast track the Westfield Direct concept, he said, and move from sketches on a whiteboard to going live within a matter of weeks.

Whilst the team was initially focused on existing fashion retailers who offered click and collect, as more retailers shut their doors it became clear that the needs were much wider.

The Scentre team then pivoted to include food service partners, with a view to making it easier for their customers to order and collect.

The capabilities of the eCommerce function were also upgraded through leveraging the technologies used in the new Westfield Plus app which was recently launched in New Zealand, and the new Westfield Digital Gift card in Australia.

“For our retail partners, Westfield Direct provides a new way for them to continue reaching their customers,” said McAveety.

“The response from our retailers so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with dozens joining each day and we’re looking forward to seeing where the Westfield Direct service takes us in the coming months.”

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In the meantime, many retailers are beginning to reopen their doors and are focused on ensuring they do so with the health and wellbeing of their customers and employees front of mind, in line with the COVID-19 Retail Recovery Protocol, launched jointly by the industry on 1 May 2020.

For some retailers, especially in the luxury category, it’s a matter of offering viewings to private groups of customers by appointment only. Many luxury brands that voluntarily decided to close their doors during March, have all now reopened at Westfield Sydney and Westfield Bondi.

Homewares brand, Adairs has announced it’ll begin to reopen stores in May, with Chief Executive Mark Ronan saying: “Our staged store openings reflect our ‘safety first’ approach as we welcome back our team and customers into our stores. There is still a long way to go, however the actions and contributions made to date put us in a strong position to navigate this changing environment.”

National children’s retail group Kidstuff has reopened selected stores, some with reduced trading hours, and has also put in place social distancing measures.

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