There’s no shortage of buzzwords in retail: omnichannel, experiential, customer first. You probably use these terms on a daily basis, and that’s because they describe qualities that are essential to being a successful retailer today. 

But there’s another phrase that we think will be just as crucial in retail’s new normal going forward: flexagility. We define flexagility as the ability to move quickly and easily in adapting to a constantly changing environment. Why do we think it’s relevant now? In a word, COVID-19. 

From remote working and learning, to travel bans and social distancing, the global pandemic has upended our daily lives. Some old habits – takeaway coffees on the morning commute, afterwork drinks with colleagues on Fridays – have fallen by the wayside, while new ones have emerged. Sourdough baking, anyone?

The past six months have seen enormous change in the retail sector, too. Online shopping has exploded – at its peak, eCommerce demand exceeded Black Friday/Cyber Monday levels by at least 30%, and daily orders volumes on average are still 50% higher than they were pre-COVID – while people have become more conscious of close contact and crowds in stores. 

If eCommerce sales were previously seen as supplementary to the store experience, they are now the primary point of contact between retailers and their customers, and bricks-and-mortar stores are playing the supporting role. 

Some businesses have responded to these changes with greater flexagility than others. For instance, Cue Clothing Co; APG & Co, which owns SABA, JAG and Sportscraft; Super Retail Group and Target, have all quickly tapped into store inventories to help fulfil online orders and keep staff working in areas where they couldn’t remain open to the public.  

We recently published an eBook detailing how these four retailers have adapted to the new normal. Here are some of the key takeaways.


How Cue and APG & Co used in-store inventory to meet online demand

Cue Clothing Co has invested significantly in a unified commerce platform over the last few years, so when COVID-19 hit, it had to close stores that were fulfilling over 50% of its online orders. 

This could have been disastrous for the fashion business, but instead, it started directing orders to particular stores where it was confident it would see volume, and staffing those stores to safely pick and pack orders. It also made staff in those locations available as virtual stylists, so online shoppers could still seek personalised advice before making a purchase.

“The key to our survival – as a multichannel retailer with 80% of inventory stored in stores – was having distributed fulfillment in place so we could offer in-store stock to customers,” said Shane Lenton, Cue Clothing Co’s CIO. “Had we not been able to do this, the situation would have been much worse.”

The situation was slightly different for APG & Co. While its fulfillment strategy over the last few years has focused heavily on fulfilling more online orders in-store, this hadn’t been fully realised when COVID-19 hit. But because the thinking was already there, APG & Co was still able to act quickly. 

“To give customers access to a wider range of products online, we had to turn distributed fulfillment on for over 90 locations in less than a week,” Nhung Tran, APG & Co’s logistics manager, said.

The apparel company started with its free-standing stores, rather than its David Jones concessions, because it was faster and easier to train its own staff, and in just a few short months, it has been able to grow online sales by 50-60%. 

“There is so much opportunity for us to grow our online sales, and we aim to increase the number of online orders fulfilled in stores from 50% to 80%,” said Tran. “This will also enable us to reduce transit times and costs which is critical if we want to begin introducing on demand delivery services.”


How Super Retail Group and Target adapted to change

With large, national store networks, Super Retail Group and Target might not be the first two names you associate with flexagility, but both of these retailers have been able to adapt quickly to the changing trading environment.

To find out how, check out our eBook here