Pivot to survive

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - September 17, 2020 - 12:00am

In June, Rustans.com was a sad version of the brick-and-mortar Rustan’s, the country’s premiere upmarket department store that carries many of the world’s luxury brand names for personal, as well as home and leisure use.

In time for its first anniversary celebration last month, Rustans.com transformed into an e-shopping portal that many of the metro’s titas and titos would delight in spending many browsing hours while confined at home under government-imposed quarantine restrictions.

No wonder, then, that the energized online shopping site has been deluged by orders, presumably most of which are coming from society’s elite and privileged sets whose shopping instincts have only been goaded to extreme restlessness by the lockdowns.

With the pandemic’s “new normal” norms likely to linger much longer, Rustans.com is being positioned as a better shopping alternative for those who continue to fear those unseen virus particles that could linger in air-conditioned spaces, or even on items that have come in contact with infected hands.

Rustan’s department stores, on the other hand, has opened its physical doors in June, with announced stringent measures to allay apprehensions of its shoppers, but like many similar retail businesses, customers have remained hesitant to step in. How long this pre-coronavirus business model, founded in 1952, will survive still remains to be seen – even when the pandemic finally is over.

Not just COVID

Luxury retailing has been one of the worst sectors hit by COVID-19, even in New York, which is home to more millionaires in the world compared to anywhere else. Nordstrom, which has to date permanently closed at least 16 full-line stores, continues to struggle with rent payments and total closure.

Still, retailing watchers say that the pandemic may not be the only reason for keeping expensively located and operationally maintained stores. The push towards online buying now seems to be more fathomable with improvements in digital transactions and support services.

Consumerism, which had been a large factor in retailing successes, is also being shaped by environmental concerns. The fashion industry is witnessing a change in consumer ideology that has been festering years back with growing concerns on wasteful use of the Earth’s resources.

For example, the aspiration to have “backyard” gardens where vegetable can be homegrown has reportedly been on the rise since the lockdowns, and this is expected to continue as households re-learn the pleasure of having farm produce available literally at their fingertips.


To survive this pandemic, businesses have to be adept at finding their best pivots points. ShopWise, a hypermarket chain bought by Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc. in 2018 from the Dairy Farm Group, is struggling to bring back customers despite the easing of restrictions.

Its competition landscape is now dotted with a thunderstorm of farm-to-market producers and goods suppliers that have efficiently partnered with delivery services – all of which have now become adept at using online platforms and social media networks without having to allocate new or huge capital.

Online grocery shopping may be viewed as acceptable and needed while people continue to be less inclined to physically push grocery carts in aisles of supermarkets or the neighborhood stores, but it could turn into a habit that consumers may become addicted to, especially when they compute that it does not significantly cost more to have things delivered.

Small and medium-sized grocers have become more agile at serving the needs of their communities which big supermarket chains with their equally huge overhead costs are currently still finding hard to compete against.

Dodging the bullet

Here are some more examples of what some beleaguered companies are doing to dodge the pandemic bullet:

Hotels are looking at super-scrubs and enhanced cleanliness protocols to bring back clients. With travel for business picking up, hotels have also beefed up their loyalty programs, especially for corporate clients.

Events organizers are getting the hang of creating “big” splashes through online channels. The key, according to one, is making everyone attending the event feel as if they share the same drama. Food, and even flowers, are delivered to guests if need be.

Maintenance companies, which are finding resurgence in service demand, are creating bubble zones where their personnel may work inside a home or office building without raising anxiety levels of the building tenants.

Realtors of high-rise residential buildings are sprucing up on protocols that would ensure that prospective new unit owners feel safe getting in and out of the building. These include strict disinfection routines, tighter control of visitors, and even policies on accepting deliveries.

Malls are now leasing out long-term parking spaces at discounted prices. This still does not reassure mall owners that they will survive the huge losses in rental income and percentage of store lessee sales, but it helps bring in some cash.

As a rule, larger companies that have invested in digital infrastructure have managed to survive better that those that have not. This, of course, does not mean that firms who just lately adopted digital platforms will not be able to survive. In the end, it all depends on how well one pivots.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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