Among suppliers and retailers, difficult choices were required between existing products (A-level brands, private label and other brands) vs. new ones, fast vs. slow movers, and promotions vs. standard pricing. Sometimes these choices were well-accepted in the market, but if not executed well, they would be misinterpreted or viewed negatively. Communication and transparency were the two competencies that separated the organizations who executed these decisions well and with thorough understanding, versus those that were more internally focused.
The suppliers and retailers that ultimately made an impact in the market were those who, in addition to getting the fundamentals of collaboration right, showed empathy. Examples of this include having more personal conversations with key contacts, sending letters of thanks to employees and even giving small gifts to show appreciation and gratitude. These acts of empathy exemplified how Dutch businesses stayed engaged even during difficult and uncertain times. This level of engagement made all the difference between those who were able to maintain and also build customer share, versus those who saw it erode.
It is now vital to ensure that suppliers and retailers do not fall back into “old” habits. As the market and greater Europe begin to reopen, going back to “the way things were” seems the logical route to take, as this is the only certainty to fall back on right now. However, we have entered a new world, a new normal, where customer and consumer flows will always be different. This requires adjustments from all of us in how we collaborate. Whether it be budgeting, forecasting, stocking or portfolio policy, flexibility will become the new standard.
Overall, collegiality, communication, transparency, mutual understanding and flexibility will be the standard behaviours of the new normal that provide the base measure of how collaboration between suppliers and retailers can be maximized beyond a crisis. While relationship dynamics in the industry will be held to a much higher standard moving forward, this will be a positive outcome for everyone that we will anchor on and expand in the future.