#2 Backstage Business – Retail and the New Reality

Work Life Shift

I worked with the GCVA on its first webinar this week – how retail is adapting to the new normal. Two hours, 90 attendees via Zoom – an excellent event. Full respect to the team who pulled it together and made it look effortless. People don’t realise how much work goes into an online event. The backstage business; it’s like a military operation. 

Five people, practice runs, production schedule, video, music, slides, speakers, app testing, promo, social media, virtual backgrounds, green screen, job sheet, live event, WhatApp commentary, comfort break: “I’m running for the fastest pee ever,” wrap up, debrief, follow up email…

The event producer had five screens. 

All the deadlines had to come together, so it’s like hosting a mini-conference. I wrote an Annual Review, which was scheduled to hit inboxes post-event. 

Interesting insights from KPMG and GlobalData on the impact of coronavirus on consumer behaviour, 10 weeks into the lockdown:

Businesses have moved from ‘reaction and resilience’ to ‘recovery and the new reality’. We need to embrace insights on the new customer and leverage this to adapt to the new reality. Companies who align with internal views rather than their customers will underperform as it’s outdated knowledge. There may be a second wave of corona in September/October and subsequent mini-lockdowns, so we need to be prepared and plan ahead. Companies are investing in digital technology and prioritising online platforms. 

4 trends to prioritise: 

  1. Business models and partnerships 
  2. Declining margins and productivity, the cost of doing business 
  3. Purpose and reputation – sustainability and a higher purpose 
  4. Customer power

For consumers, there’s been a shift in priorities. Our main concerns are the health of family and friends and the state of the economy. It’s all about conscious consumption and connecting via social media. 

We’re spending less on clothing and footwear, more on sports gear, DIY and gardening stuff (B&Q has had a run on hot tubs). Coronavirus has accelerated the trends that were already there, e.g. digital spending, online shopping, and a struggling high street. Discounting and private labelling is going mainstream – the rise of Lidl and Aldi. Sustainability and ethics are more important. Post-corona, we’ll be buying less.

Overall, people are positive about the future of retail and the digital shift is excellent news for the gift card industry. It’s good to see businesses making decisions faster. There’s talk of the rise of retail parks, which need rethinking – they’re a bit soulless at present. Let’s make them more of an experience with cafes and stalls as they do in Germany. People seem to be enjoying working from home. “As an introvert, I love this new way of working. I love having spotlight meetings with my clients online.”

Zooming tips: Don’t aim for perfection. Perfect is 80% of perfection. Make it fun with jokes and canned laughter, it keeps it real. Music, polls (seems we’ve mostly been working during lockdown). We had Ella Fitzgerald’s Slap that Bass playing in the waiting room, “Zoom, zoom, zoom”. Don’t pick your nose. Let someone finish before you speak. Roger, out. The DG raised a toast at the end, a nice touch. She did a great job. “I really enjoyed it. You can teach an old dog new tricks. It’s lovely to learn something new.” 

The rise of discount stores is interesting. I’ve been living in Primani sports gear as I’m out jogging, so I’ve not been bothered about clothes shopping. I’ve cut my own hair. I spent £375 on food last month – bit of a shock when I tallied that up, so I’m trying to be more disciplined and stick to supermarkets. I’m off to Aldi this afternoon. “You’ll be shocked at how much cheaper it is than Lidl,” says my friend Rebecca who runs a drinks business. “Their coffee is much better, I buy the Ethiopian Java… good olive oil for £2, cheeses, fresh stuffed pasta, pesto – cheap as chips, gluten-free pasta, cod freezes well.” No online shopping in the UK for Lidl or Aldi yet (aside from food parcels), but it won’t be long.

My main challenge this week has been time management, i.e. juggling multiple clients and having two deadlines. I have a portfolio career with several income streams in case one dries up, which is sensible as I’ve lost contracts, but it’s stressful juggling clients, especially when additional work comes up, i.e. pre-prep for an event. I’ve had no quiet time to write this week so found myself multitasking and feeling stressed. I posted a thread on Twitter and had some helpful suggestions – thanks to Catherine @CleanSlateCopy

“Either add in a time buffer when quoting or set up a shared calendar so clients can see your bookable hours and everything is transparent.” 

I’ve now set up a Google calendar for work which I’ll share with clients, let’s see how it goes. It’s a good starting point, sets boundaries, and means I can schedule breaks and exercise time too. It will be easier to say no when things are transparent and clients can see your calendar in advance.

I’m reading: 

The Reset, Mary Portas’ new newsletter: How Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been flipped on its head (temporarily) and basics have become the new prestige. We’re placing a higher value on nature, caring, and essential buys which she thinks will long outlast the pandemic. Some light relief and top tips on how businesses can survive and thrive at this time.

This piece in The Guardian by Jonathan Freedland on how low-skilled workers are the new heroes. “It turns out that we can function without celebrities or star athletes, but we really cannot function without nurses, doctors, care workers, delivery drivers, the stackers of supermarket shelves or, perhaps unexpectedly, good neighbours.”

How businesses are adapting to flexible working. Jacinda Ardern is pushing for a four-day week to help boost the economy and work-life integration.

I’m using: 

  • Google Drive: Calendar for bookable hours, docs for writing (sick of losing work when Word suddenly quits and odd formatting when you copy & paste). Also checking out Google Meet, just launched – see Zoom vs Teams vs Meet – how do they compare?
  • Evernote app: I love it. Save articles, screenshots, & create notebooks. Brilliant if you get distracted reading stuff online when you should be working.
  • Babbel: I’ve been using the Duolingo app to learn Italian but need something meatier. A friend recommended Babbel as it has a sharper focus on conversations. She’s encouraging her son doing a lesson a day to earn his pocket money, a fiver a week.) Good idea. I can pay myself pocket money in dividends.

An idea:

Crazy prices. I said to haggle, has to be worth a try. How about we use Twitter to advertise our skills and tag it #skillshare and offer low-cost lessons via Zoom? Could be a possible way for talented freelancers to earn additional income during the lockdown.

I know an excellent digital events producer, social media expert, graphic designer, branding expert… 

I’ve been to… 

Hastings Old Town. Here’s Catherine Cookson’s old house and Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to be placed on the British medical register.

Busy down here this weekend. I think we’ll see a shift to coastal living post-corona.

The Shift is your weekly newsletter exploring new ways of living and working. It’s written by me, Nicci Talbot, a freelance journalist. Got a tip or story to share? Email me at

By Nicci Talbot

Director, freelance journalist & copywriter

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