COMMENTARY – Post lockdown lessons help build valuable bounce back strategies for Houlden members


In just over two months since lockdown was lifted on the high street, feedback from the Houlden Group Members clearly illustrates how they have successfully risen to the Bounce Back challenge with new in-store working practices and a stronger digital presence. Chief Executive Helen Haddow provides an insight into the challenges and successes of the past weeks and how members have adapted to the post-pandemic ‘bricks and clicks’ retail environment.

Key to opening the doors was the provision of a safe environment for both customers and in-house teams. Some members chose to run either a closed-door policy, with a doorman to greet customers and explain the new practices. Others set up an appointment only system and several members reported full bookings. Both systems appear to have worked very well and made up for the decline in footfall from casual shoppers, despite a slight improvement seen with the reopening of the hospitality industry encouraging consumers to return to the high street.

I believe that jewellery retailers overall have succeeded in offering an extremely safe environment in which to do business – although selling and buying in a PPE environment with masks, visors and screens, whilst at the same time offering a luxury experience for the consumer, is undoubtedly challenging. However, the consumer mindset has changed and members reassuringly have found that they are more than willing to accept new practices and customer journeys.

The importance of creating an exciting digital experience has also been recognised. Lockdown has accelerated the growth of the Houlden retailer online presence with a heavy investment in launching new websites and increasing activity on key digital platforms. This is a wise move to guard against the consequences of a possible second wave of the pandemic and the potential threat of local lockdowns.  Customers have greeted this shift to online with trust and our members see this as an increasingly valuable add-on to their physical bricks and mortar presence.

The regular virtual Members meetings pre and post lockdown have facilitated the sharing of best practice and, in particular, the provision of exceptional customer care — as well as lessons learnt. Established good practices have boosted the customer experience and confidence, demonstrating that this can still be achieved while abiding to the government guidelines.

Members have extended their duty of care to their suppliers who have faced a tough time too. Despite retailers nationally experiencing an initial flurry of demand from customers, there is industry-wide concern about the impact of impending redundancies and the effect this will have on the economy.  Retailers are therefore having to be cautious with their cash resources and focus on making every penny count.

Our Members have encouraged their suppliers to work alongside them to find solutions for the latter’s challenges.  We have already witnessed some innovative business initiatives from suppliers who are demonstrating that they are listening, showing empathy and, most importantly, looking to work together with their retail partners — recognising the need for team work to ‘Thrive to Survive’.

This crisis has undoubtedly accelerated the positive influence of IT technology on an industry that pre-pandemic was slow to adapt.  Supplier initiatives to support retailer sell through include the creation of valuable educational videos that highlight the design process and high-quality craftsmanship that go into making a piece of jewellery.

Members also report that suppliers have improved their own digital presence by embracing virtual sales appointments and also investing in new websites to streamline the online ordering process for both stock and new lines. In addition, the provision of high-resolution product images and social media collateral has helped retailers engage with their digital customers.

No one knows what challenges lie ahead. Fortunately Members, with the benefit of the support from their Houlden peers, are feeling less uncertain with their worst predictions of post lockdown having thankfully not been realised. As a result, there is a feeling of relative optimism for the future. They share the view that people will still want to continue to celebrate and recognise key occasions and, as consumer confidence starts to re-build, there will be a return to shopping in-store for emotional purchases as people like to buy from people.

Our lessons learnt are definitely the need for resilience, reflection, resourcefulness and flexibility — as a team. And as an organisation, we will continue to support our members behind the scenes, evolving and adapting to their needs as circumstances change, and aiming to provide inspiration through our combined expertise as and when needed.

Helen Haddow