With physical stores closed to the public and consumers confined to their homes, COVID-19 is radically reshaping the way retailers do business. So what can they do to stay competitive? This week, we released our Crisis Manifesto: How retail will change post-Coronavirus report to help retailers navigate their new reality. As part of our series on retail innovation we sat down with Mark Gingras, CEO of Foko Retail to talk about how to survive this shifting market and why improving the e-commerce experience could be the answer.
Currently, what’s the status of Foko Retail and how has the company been impacted by COVID-19?
The impact has been minimal in terms of our ability to work. As an IT company we’ve been using our own software, our Foko communication platform, and so there’s been zero impact. We’ve actually hired talent and increased our team by about 10%. We were onboarding people fairly seamlessly—it just took setting up proper procedures across different time zones and now it’s all working very well. What the impact might be from the business standpoint, I think it’s just too early to tell.
How is COVID-19 impacting Foko Retail‘s work with bigger customers?
There are different rules for essential and non-essential retailers, which are the most affected. We work with all of our clients to understand the changes they’re going through and how we can continue adding value and supporting them where they need it. For essential retailers such as pharmacies, grocers and convenience stores COVID-19 meant a surge of work. They’re having issues communicating with their frontline teams. For our business model, it’s about working with our customers and staying nimble to address the gaps in those communication lines, and so we’re well positioned to create value there.
Crisis Manifesto: How retail will change post-Coronavirus — a report by Highline Beta
Retail is now staring at industry-wide disruption. How can companies stay competitive in this changing landscape? Highline Beta has put together a report on retail innovation trends to help retailers thrive on the other side of the pandemic.
Retailers in general will need to increase hygiene and sanitary procedures internally, and focus on creating a much tighter integrated retail model as the new norm. For Foko, we are seeing retailers moving forward with changes of tech stack to address new gaps in communication that have emerged as a result of COVID-19. And we’re right in the midst of those conversations, which are now accelerating.
What are your thoughts on the changes in consumer behaviour? Any thoughts on consumer behaviour and how it will drive changes in retail / retail tech because of COVID-19?
Integrated commerce will be very important moving forward. This pandemic has highlighted it as an area that needs improvement. In stores, they’ll need to start accounting for allowing people to keep social distancing habits and translate that into how stores are being laid out. Over time, people will want better space and separation. We will have an on-going pandemic until there’s a long-term cure, and so these new consumer habits and demands won’t just disappear overnight.
We have many customers in the essential retail space. They see a need to communicate with staff on a real-time basis. This means getting tech like ours in the hands of the frontline teams. We are a task and communications software for retailers, allowing retailers to execute on their vision by supporting their front-line teams. Task management and corporate communications flow, which could be related to COVID-19 policies, is an opportunity for us.
What has been the impact on Foko Retail‘s company culture?
We’ve always been the company that allowed people to work from home, and we used our office to build some solid social ties. We haven’t seen a slowdown in productivity as we transitioned to full remote—this was because we had strong relationships going into it. Four weeks after being distant, I did a survey to see if people would prefer to continue working from home, or work from the office just certain days a week—I was expecting more people to say that they enjoy working from home, but more than 50% of all the staff said they’d want to work from the office almost every day. 80% would choose to work from home one day a week or less. This means there’s still a strong will to be together, to see each other and collaborate, and to maintain those social ties as we get our work done.
As we’re planning out 2020, the human aspect and impact on culture and what we expect from offices has been really interesting. We were about to move into a new office and started our space planning before the pandemic. We are now revisiting our assumptions and layouts to accommodate changes in mindset people will have coming back to the office, while allowing them to enjoy the company of their colleagues. It’ll be interesting to see how our new space ends up being engineered. As a business, we want to see how our solutions will enable better communication between retailers with thousands of locations and their frontline teams to enable our clients establish and clearly communicate their priorities. It’s a big problem area and retailers want to focus on solving this.
What advice would you give other startups during this pandemic?
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. When people are fearful be greedy, and when people are greedy be fearful. It’s time to invest, look at new opportunities more aggressively, and act on them.