COVID -19 has left no stone unturned when it comes to retailers across the world. It has impacted product retailers in the food, cleaning and sanitizing, pharmacy, and toiletry industries with demand they haven’t seen in years. However, with the mandatory shut down and shelter in place orders of most countries and states for weeks, it has caused a real crisis for other retailers; especially those defined as non-essential (fashion, apparel, non-food) and those with only a brick-and-mortar presence.
Store closings and a change in spending behavior have forced many retailers to furlough employees or even permanently close their doors. These changes are causing substantial economic impacts on communities and individuals when just a few short months ago many of these areas were thriving. These hardships will be felt for some time to come and continue to impact the retail sector.
While the crisis has substantially impacted in-person shopping, retailers have looked for creative ways to maintain a safe approach to providing goods and services to their customers. Many big and small retailers set up delivery options as well as curbside pick-up. Consumer behavior has also shifted to online avenues. Brands with an online presence are seeing a way to survive and even thrive during these uncertain times. Retailers that were positioned well before the pandemic are likely to be stronger after the pandemic. Those who were teetering prior to are likely feeling the devastation. The retail landscape could see a real shift between the winners and losers.
As retailers look for ways to adapt to the post COVID world, focusing on meshing your online and offline efforts will be key to survival. For the consumer, having your online offers match what is being sold in your offline store will be crucial. For the retailer, planning and executing inventory from distributors will be the challenge. Those companies that can find that balance will have a leg up in the post COVID landscape.
Safety, trust, and convenience will be areas that can not be overlooked. While many people are seeing the gradual opening up of business and retail stores as light at the end of the tunnel there are still many people who will still be apprehensive about venturing out. The safety of your employees and customers will need to continue to be a top priority. While people want to get out and shop and have social interaction, what that looks like instore has likely changed forever. Social distancing and limiting the number of people that can be in the store are likely here to stay.
As part of the safety and trust factor, how customers and employees interact with one another has seen a shift during the pandemic. Dividers or shields have been implemented at many retailers to keep employees and shoppers at a distance. This practice is likely to continue and evolve even more as retailers open back up. Contactless pay options have been around for a few years, however, brands will likely continue to evolve this technology and need to incorporate apps to their in-store experience.
While recent years have seen store pick up options accelerate and more and more companies providing this option, post-COVID 19 is only going to drive this retail option. The definition of shopping and going to a store is seeing a shift. No longer are stores going to be seen as a place to shop, it will be seen as a place to retrieve your products. Companies positioned to provide curbside pick up will likely see the benefits in revenue.
As measures are continued to be lifted, luring customers back will be of top priority for retailers. Safety and convenience will be key factors in getting people back in your store. However, another aspect that should be overlooked is discounts and incentives such as buy one get one free to drive customers to your brand. The quarantine and the stay at home orders have impacted many people financially. People are hesitant to spend money on non-essential items. Retailers could benefit from a creative strategy for sales and discounts to entice customers.
Communication is key, whether it is reaching your past customer or attracting new customers. Update your websites if you have one, send out emails, advertise through social media, tv, radio, newspaper, or any other avenue to make sure your message is out there and let people know you are open and ready for business. Also, be sure to tell your customers you are following all the local and state guidelines to open and that you are also taking the precautions needed to ensure everyone is safe and prevent further spread of the virus.
Many retailers will be looking for that one thing that puts them ahead of the rest as things begin to open back up. Providing extraordinary customer service could be a secret weapon. Bridging the gap between just an ordinary experience to an extraordinary shopping experience could be the piece of the puzzle that entices a past customer to return or creates the exact experience that the new customer was looking for. Creating that culture from within your organizations and then transferring that to the customer experience will create a winning customer experience.
With the shift to online shopping during the recent months and with things beginning to return to a new “normal” the retail landscape has been forever changed and how companies respond to this change will be crucial in coming out of this pandemic. Make sure as a retail company you are adapting and changing to meet the ever-changing needs of the consumer.