Until a few weeks ago, we were all part of a high consuming culture. But the COVID-19 global pandemic caused the pendulum to swing to the other end. Most economies worldwide are heading into a recession, workers are getting laid off, and spending patterns have turned more conservative.
Whether you’re a retailer or an ecommerce merchant who is wondering what lies ahead, here are some pointers on how to navigate your way out of this black swan event.
1) Prepare for change
If you are a retailer, even one that is heavily invested in experiential retail, you might notice a few differences when we return to normalcy. After months of isolation and quarantine, people's lives would have changed, and so would have the fundamental way they interact with brands—more online and less offline.
On the other hand, retailers have struggled to stay profitable in the past few years. In 2019, Sears, Payless, Walgreens and many others closed shop.
In the post-pandemic world of 2020, what will be the new reality?
I would wager that brick-and-mortar stores and malls will continue to exist. Customers will flock to these places because they hold value as symbols of community and/or because we will now embrace human contact.
However, whether these store or mall visits will translate into conversion is yet to be seen. After all, habits shape behaviour and a consumer who is now more familiar with the ease and convenience of digital platforms may prefer to keep his or her business online. A perfect example of this change in behaviour is already visible in the way we shop for groceries; this survey reveals that 9% of Canadians are now shopping for food online for the first time, leading to an explosion in online grocery shopping and delivery services.
2) Invest in building and strengthening customer relationships
A popular concept in social psychology is reciprocity bias. This cognitive bias leads us humans to respond to a positive action with another positive action, thereby rewarding kind efforts.
If your brand is helpful, responsible, responsive, and empathetic towards your audience today, you’re looking at an increase in brand affinity and loyalty. Here’s a fantastic example from Iceland Foods.
There are some ways you can amplify digital interactions that are true, meaningful and build a deeper connection with your customer right now. You could:
- Offer free shipping for domestic orders
- Communicate how goods are handled at your warehouse, the sanitization procedures you are following, and your instructions to your shipping carrier
- Communicate delays in shipment, if any
- Send product restock notifications
- Support customers around the clock
Check in with your customers, share your challenges and show your brand in a more humane light. Transparency in these times will foster goodwill and make your brand more relatable. #WeAreAllInThisTogether
3) Showcase value and hold your brand to a higher standard
This is a time for brands to deliver the right experience and harness the value of deep customer relationships. This is your chance to cut through the noise by initiating an honest dialogue and clearly articulating the value of your offerings.
While some industries like travel and tourism may take a while to bounce back, you can choose to pivot from planning flagship stores or experiential retail to building digital relationships. With leading communication platforms, you can even leverage Facebook Messenger, Google Business Messaging or WhatsApp, etc, to forge personalized relationships with your new-age consumer. This way, you align your business strategies to match the pulse of your customer.
4) Seek help—we’re all in this together
Our community is strong, and there are ways you can get help to keep your business afloat in this crisis. In Canada, the Retail Council of Canada offers details on the federal government's economic response plan on COVID-19 and what this means for retailers.
In the U.K., ACS (the Association of Convenience Stores) is working with the government to keep retailers up-to-date information on grants and compensation, employment etc.
The National Retail Federation—world's largest retail trade association and largest private-sector industry in the United States—is also closely monitoring the situation and providing guidance for retailers.
As for us, we’re doing our bit for our community. We launched a retail relief program wherein retailers and ecommerce businesses can leverage our entry-level ecommerce chat solution free of charge for the next 3 months. You can enroll in this program by filling out the form here.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the burden of this pandemic on the global economy and resources. However, retailers cannot lose heart now. Instead, take stock of the situation to define the trajectory of your brand for the decades ahead. A few thought starters could be—how can you deliver seamless customer experiences across channels, bridge the gap between your online and offline store, and personalize customer interactions. There are some answers in this ebook, if you’d like to take a look.
Stay safe, healthy and confident! We're all in this together.