Skip to Content

Halfords – The ‘Bike Shop’ That’s Helping to Change the World

Halfords – The ‘Bike Shop’ That’s Helping to Change the World

Designated an essential retailer, Halfords had a responsibility. In conversation with its CEO to understand how tech helped their response.

Halfords is one of the UK’s most recognised brands. Designated an essential retailer when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it had a dual responsibility; firstly, to continue to serve customers and secondly, to play its part in the national effort to keep Britain moving during lockdown. We spoke to Halfords CIO, Neil Holden, to get his take on the past year and to understand how technology helped shape the response.

What was your reaction at Halfords when the lockdown first began?

Clearly, it was a huge jolt to the system. We were pleased to be an essential retailer because we wanted to play our part in the communities we serve. We’re a big business, but we see ourselves as a community retailer. We’ve got a great history over almost 130 years and I think we have earned the trust of the public and the authorities to deliver a good service and to keep people safe during a very stressful period for everyone.

We were well placed to play our role in the national response. Many people have an emotional connection with Halfords, I bought my first bike there myself. Most of us have been customers there and I think that many parents, when thinking about buying bikes for their kids, are likely to think of Halfords first. We’ve got the infrastructure, the systems and the committed people you need to react well under pressure.

How well prepared were you for this new situation?

We were doing lots of things right prior to the pandemic and the potential within the business was clear, but the various components were a bit disconnected. Some customers didn’t know about the unique breadth of our services. Ideally, we would like those who bought motoring items to also purchase cycling items, and vice versa, but actually very few did this. It was very siloed in terms of purchasing trends.

We needed to invest in digital to renew our capability to provide customers with a great Halfords experience however we interacted with them, whether in-store or online. The goal was to become a modern, ‘super specialist’ business with a comprehensive, integrated, and convenient services offering, retaining customers for life by proactively taking care of all of their motoring and cycling needs. Central to this was a single trading platform,, powered by Salesforce Commerce Cloud – a one-stop shop for all things motoring and cycling. As we can integrate Commerce Cloud with our existing Service Cloud solution, we now have a 360-degree view of our customers.

We launched the platform just weeks before the lockdown began, which was a huge break for us. It’s played a huge role in our response and without it I fear we would have struggled to have the speed, agility, and responsiveness that proved to be absolutely essential.

How did things change and evolve for Halfords as the year went on?

A huge amount has changed. I heard someone saying that five years of change happened in just five months and I’d agree with that completely. And although these changes have taken place against a backdrop of frightening, upsetting, and sad events, Commerce Cloud has meant we can be quick to respond and the huge acceleration in innovation that has accompanied it has produced some very exciting developments.

The quality, diversity, and personalisation of services that we’re now able to provide for customers – and the amount of choice we can offer – is way ahead of where we were before the pandemic.

And out of these tragic circumstances, some really positive trends have emerged. The nation has fallen back in love with cycling, which is fantastic when you think of the huge benefits that can result from that. People who cycle regularly are more healthy and it’s something that couples, families, and friends can do together, so it’s good for our relationships and our wellbeing.

And if more people are cycling then there is inevitably an added benefit for the environment. I think there’s also been a major boost for the electrification agenda, which we have helped drive and experienced, with growing interest in e-bikes, e-scooters, and electric cars.

I’m really excited about all these changes in attitudes and trends because we’re changing along with them. In fact, I’d like to say that I think that Halfords is partly responsible for some of the changes in the markets we operate in – we’ve been doing some ground-breaking work that I think we can be very proud of.

One exciting area for us that Salesforce has helped shape, is that we’ve taken all that we have learned and developed for individual consumers, and applied those things that are appropriate for our business customers. Our B2B group is already strong and growing quickly and we’ve got some great services for businesses that are already valued by our customers.

But there are changes coming in this market too, predominantly in the rental and subscription business model debate, where less ownership can actually produce more usage. The potential is enormous, and we’ve got our best brains on the case.

Who’d have thought that working in a bike shop could be so exciting!

Find out more here about Halfords’ contribution to the national response to COVID-19.

Get our bi-weekly newsletter for the latest business insights.