Robert Burns wrote this in a poem more than 250 years ago—“The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” For many of us, that has never felt more true. As the ongoing situation continues to evolve, we've been pooling resources to help retailers navigate this crisis.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we published eight retail strategies brand owners can adopt to future-proof their business.
Today, as we inch towards a staggered opening of our economies, a new challenge lies ahead for retailers—how to persuade shoppers that it is safe to visit stores post-lockdown.
Given the current environment, just opening the doors to shoppers is not going to make it “business as usual.” While the state and federal governments are releasing guidelines for stores and individuals, it does not assuage shoppers’ concerns.
“A lot of it is about communication in-store; getting people to do what you want them to do when they’re finally coming back through. There will be nervousness about going back into the high street,” comments Kieron Smith, digital director of Blackwell's Bookshops.
Brands will need to communicate new safety measures they are introducing, modify their promotion strategy, and explore ideas to engage shoppers. In this article, we have outlined some tips, tricks, and best practices you can follow to get your business back on track.
10 ways to get ready for the new (ab)normal post-lockdown
To help you prioritize the most relevant strategies for your business, we have divided the solutions into technical and non-technical. However, with the accelerated pace of digital transformation, a combination of both approaches will yield maximum results. Let’s dive right into it.
1. Launch limited-edition collections
A surefire way to entice shoppers to visit your store is to introduce limited-edition collections, and here’s why this approach works—Limited edition sales play on a key human emotion: The fear of missing out (FOMO). When shoppers realize that a purchase opportunity is for a limited time, they are more likely to act with urgency.
A consumer report by WhichTestWon revealed that when a countdown timer was added to an online product listing, the conversion rates increased by 9% as compared to the same listing without the countdown timer.
Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) induces urgency on the part of a customer to take action, often due to scarcity of resources.
A few years ago, H-E-B—a popular retailer—partnered with the Selena Foundation to release a limited-edition Selena tote bag in a few stores in Texas. This launch received an overwhelming response since the late singer had a sizable fan following in the state. Initially priced at two-dollars, the tote bags quickly sold out, only to reappear on eBay for $50.
“That bag — it blew up my Facebook feed the day it came out because there were so many people asking which H-E-B store has the bags. They sold out,” said Diana Sheehan, Vice President of Retail and Shopper Insights for Kantar Consulting.
Another example is Trader Joe’s. The retailer introduced a private label lemon-elderflower flavoured soda just in time for the royal wedding; The cake at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was also lemon and elderflower.
These examples indicate that consumers want to connect with their products. If retailers can capture this essence by launching private labels that correspond to seasons, news or trends, shoppers will be lining up, outside stores!
Interesting fact: The recent shopping spree for toilet paper was FOMO, induced due to an expectation of scarcity since shoppers feared disruption in supply and distribution chains due to the outbreak.
2. Design new shopping environments
Since social distancing will be the norm for the foreseeable future in the post-lockdown retail world, visiting brick-and-mortar stores may become an unpleasant experience for customers. Retailers should consider jazzing up the shopping environment to put shoppers at ease.
Recently, Burger King re-opened restaurants in Germany and introduced quirky, social distancing crowns that look something like this—
How can you design a new shopping environment post-lockdown? Let’s put on our thinking hats and take a stab at this!
a) Make floor maps fun
You could put YOUR spin on the floor maps that are increasingly ubiquitous. You could add fun facts about your city, brand or even store. You could also guide customers towards aisles with an artsy maze on the floor.
b) Offer digital browsing options in-store
Another way to ease the shopping experience is to offer a digital device or tablet upon store entry. This way, shoppers can browse and choose products they would like to see, try, and buy.
c) Go inventory-less
Nordstrom—the department store retailer—successfully implemented this idea at its Los Angeles stores. The retailer wanted to turn the stores into experiential centers with fitting rooms, sales advisors, nail salons and a bar. Customers buy online and pick up their order at the “Nordstrom Neighborhood” store within two hours of ordering. Customers visit these stores for product alterations or to meet a personal shopper and get shopping advice.
d) Think outside the box
When the outbreak forced a cocktail bar to shut down in Durham, North Carolina, they put together a little online shop that sells cocktail kits that customers can use to fix themselves a nice drink at home. The brand even hosts a happy hour on its Instagram page.
3. Diversify your product line
The pandemic has given rise to the COVID-19’s hierarchy of needs, wherein consumers place higher value on products or services that provide protection, entertainment, or connection.
Several brands are now adding soaps and other hygiene products, medical supplies or DIY products to meet consumer demand. Retailers are already re-assessing and re-routing their resource capabilities towards providing items that are now in demand. For example, Fruit Suite normally ships fruit and snacks to offices. However, now it has pivoted to making home deliveries, and also added eggs, bread and vegetables to its offerings. The seller is also looking to expand further to other categories.
On the other hand, the online search trends for certain items like disposable gloves, face shields, workout gear, and gardening supplies shows an upward trend. As a retailer, if you can diversify your product line, while retaining your fundamental mission and vision, you can cater to the consumer needs of today or supplement them better.
Buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) or click-and-collect has been growing in the past few years. This option is a clear case of omnichannel retail—where online experiences align with offline experiences and vice-versa. Customers love this option because it gives them the flexibility to place an order online and collect their purchase as per their convenience without incurring extra delivery fees or shipping delays.
A report by Adobe Analytics revealed that BOPIS orders increased 208% on April 1 this year, compared to the same period last year. Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, also said that the service is a win-win for retailers and consumers.
“Retailers who have to buy online pick up in-store capabilities are using them to keep consumers coming to their storefronts, maintain engagement with their brands and give their customers an experience that even 1-day shipping cannot replicate,” Schreiner says.
If you are already offering BOPIS, you can kick it up a notch by adapting it to buy online, pick up somewhere. You could do this with joint partnerships with other brick-and-mortar stores. This arrangement will allow you to offer more order fulfillment options to your customers.
Pro tip: BOPIS will now stand for buy online, pick up somewhere
Top retailers like Apple, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Walmart, and Target are already offering this increasingly popular service. It is expected that about 90% of brick-and-mortar retailers will provide BOPIS by 2021.
5. Maximize resources on your shop floor
While shopping in physical locations will take some time to return to normalcy, it doesn’t mean that shopping will be put on hold. As a retailer operating in a post-lockdown world, you should use your two prime retail resources to the optimum—staff and floor.
You can consider routing online shoppers to in-store sales associates, providing value and support in real-time. Alternatively, store associates can even use video calling software to show customers shortlisted items or even demonstrate the use of a product. This service would be highly beneficial for luxury goods retailers since shoppers prefer consulting a sales advisor before making a purchase. The same would be true for other retailers that sell big-ticket items like furniture, home appliances, etc.
On your floor, you can allocate a consultation area, where your store staff can hold one-on-one conversations with offline and online shoppers. Alternatively, you could even convert trial rooms into private consultation booths.
Embracing this tactic can help you kickstart an omnichannel retail strategy, where offline and online experiences align seamlessly.
6. Allow reservations for store entry
In Belgium, once the lockdown was lifted, long lines were reported outside fast fashion stores like Zara and Primark. Some experts say that this is to be expected due to pent-up demand. During this phase, consumers are more inclined to indulge themselves.
However, will consumers wait in line outside stores for an hour to buy a dress? I don’t think so.
The retail mantra right now, as always, should be how do I make the experience seamless? You could encourage shoppers to reserve entry slots online before they visit your store. You could also run a great marketing campaign around this. Here’s an example: We’ve just launched a limited-edition bandana collection with Roger Federer. Book your store visit now! Limited slots remaining.
With this campaign, you would have created FOMO for the bandanas and the slots. The upside to this approach is that you will not lose out on those shoppers who walk away because the queue was too long.
7. Emphasize on building trust with shoppers
Your business cannot be profitable in the long-term if your customers are chronic switchers, i.e. they don’t stick around. Any business owner will tell you that it is a lot easier and cheaper to retain an old customer than to recruit a new one. Harvard Business Review suggests,
“Over time, as the loyalty life cycle plays out, loyal customers even become business builders: buying more, paying premium prices, and bringing in new customers through referrals.”
So how can you retain old customers, i.e. build brand loyalty and affinity?
The answer lies in decoding reciprocity bias, a popular cognitive bias in social psychology. Humans are wired to respond to a positive action with another positive action, thereby creating this cycle of indebtedness. For example, if you offer a customer a free dessert after a meal, the customer is more likely to tip higher, write glowing reviews or even recommend your restaurant to their friends and family.
Here are three ways your brands can leverage reciprocity bias to establish a deeper connection with your shopper:
a) Incentivize and reward shoppers
Brands often launch membership and loyalty programs to evoke desired customer behaviour. However, these programs end up being ineffective or misapplied because brands fail to play the long game.
“The efficacy of your program depends on this fundamental realization—customers prefer rewards programs with cash value, relevance, choice, aspirational value, and convenience,” writes Harvard Business Review.
A great example is Amazon’s Prime membership. Customers get several benefits at the cost of $119/per year, including free 2-day shipping on a wide range of products.
While Amazon Prime incurs losses to the tune of $1-2 billion per year (allegedly), it makes up for it through an increase in the frequency of shopping transactions. After all, a Prime member spends an average of $1,500 a year compared to a paltry $625 spent by a non-Prime member. Who would’ve thought?
Ultimately, the goal for businesses should be to design loyalty programs that focus on value creation.
Pro tip: The full potential of value sharing through rewards is realized only when customers become sustainably loyal.
b) Create a frictionless shopping experience
You have got to treat your customer like royalty; meet them on their turf, fulfill their whims, and do it with grace, day in and day out.
To formulate seamless shopping experiences, you need cutting-edge technology that empowers you, and not holds you back. I’ll give you a classic example: Even today, you’ll find businesses that use clunky call center software and offer only phone support to their customers. The worst bit—support is available only between 9 A.M to 5 P.M.
When you’re the shopper, that is not frictionless, seamless or an experience. After all, nobody ever said, “I can’t wait to be put on hold for 25 minutes.” Customer support rules are changing, and you can use conversational AI to make shoppers feel special, provide support around the clock, and even synchronize the experience across your digital and physical stores.
c) Anticipate customer needs
Your customer is not a number or a statistic, and shouldn’t be treated as such. In this era of personalization, you have an opportunity and the responsibility to deliver hyper-personalized experiences.
Let’s take a look at an example—Stitch Fix—an online retailer that offers customers access to personal stylists who help them find clothing based on their style and preferences. The stylists ask a given set of questions and based on responses, hand-selects pieces. These curated pieces are shipped to the customer, who keeps what they like and sends back the rest, only paying for what they keep.
For Stitch Fix, they get a treasure of data and feedback that they can mine to fine-tune their future campaigns. The retailer got all this from a low effort questionnaire that was happily filled out by the customer because there was a bigger trade-off—handpicked clothes based on their unique taste.
If you can invent a business model that gathers customer data, and translates it into personalized shopping experiences, you’ll hit the jackpot.
8. Turn on Google My Business
Google My Business (GMB) is an easy and cost-effective way to make your business more discoverable, both online and offline.
Setting up GMB for your business allows buyers to find the exact location of your retail store on Google Maps. After all, let’s face it, no one wants to rely on word of mouth directions that can get complicated...“Take a right at the next exit, go straight for three blocks, you’ll see a statue of a pigeon, now take a left and go straight for another two blocks.”
GMB also increases search visibility for your business on the search engine results page. For example, a search for “cosmetics stores in Montreal” yielded the following results in a high-visibility panel, right above the organic listings and paid listings.
By having GMB, you’ll be able to not only display important information like operating hours and location but also give customers the flexibility to message your business. Customers can connect with your brand in real-time via your business profile on Google. You can directly answer questions and attract more last-mile shoppers directly to your physical store.
9. Upgrade in-store technology to deliver the “Just walk out” experience
Amazon launched “Amazon Go” stores in 2018. Touted as an “experience,” the stores were fully cashier-less and minimalistic in design. All customers had to do was download an app, enter the store, choose their product(s) and, when finished shopping, walk out of the store.
Amazon automates purchase, checkout and payment by using patented technology that involves computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion.
The retailer is now offering this licensed tech, new and improved, to retailers, calling it the “Just Walk Out” technology. Retailers can get access to this technology for their stores to completely eliminate checkout lines and focus on-floor staff resources elsewhere. With this technology, your customers will be able to enter your store with just a credit card, without having to download any apps. The Just Walk Out technology will create a virtual cart with shortlisted items, and the customer will only be charged for the items in the cart. The shopping receipt is sent to them automatically, making the entire experience effortless and convenient.
There are similar vendors like AiFi and Grabango that also offer automated checkout systems to retailers.
10. Start thinking mobile-first
The future is mobile-first, and this approach will hold you in good stead. You could adopt this approach in a variety of ways, from launching your product app to allowing customers to contact your support team via messaging apps.
Let’s dig a little deeper into these two use-cases to highlight their benefit.
By launching a product app, you can target buyers via in-app notifications, enable the app with cutting edge tech like virtual or augmented reality to facilitate a sale, and empower customers to browse and shop at their fingertips. For example, jewelry brand—Kendra Scott—introduced AR technology to support virtual try-on for its products.
On the other hand, by allowing customers to reach you via messaging, you provide instant support that is wholly aligned with the customers’ expectations. By that I mean, if a customer visits your page on Facebook, they should be able to contact your business via Facebook Messenger. Now, you may wonder, “why do I need that? I have Google My Business and shoppers can get in touch with me there”. The answer is simple: You should be where your customers are, not the other way around. If you’re wondering how you can engage with customers via messaging apps, there is a kickass customer messaging software for that.
Retailers, it is time on turn on the charm
If I could summarize this post in two words, I would write “experience” twice. In the new normal, or as I like to call it—the new (ab)normal, the experience you deliver will be a deal-breaker.
While experiential retail is not a new concept, it’s going to hold more relevance in this new reality. Post-lockdown, brands will have to adapt and innovate to make this contact-free retail experience memorable.
“If retailers are to bounce back after lockdown lifts, it will only be through establishing their premises not solely as experiential playgrounds, but also as trusted and transparent safe havens.” - Peter Maxwell, Frameweb
Are there any more strategies you’d like us to talk about? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!