The world is currently going through unprecedented disruption amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Retail businesses around the world are finding themselves in a new state of reality. In many cases, not even the best laid plans for emergency could have covered the eventualities the world is seeing unravel each day.
With all ‘non-essential’ physical stores forced to shut their doors many retailers are relying on ecommerce to see them through. Whilst these are extreme circumstances presenting a host of new challenges, there is also something of a unique opportunity for retailers to show real agility in the face of such difficult conditions.
Customers are looking for reassurance, support and understanding from businesses of all kinds during this time. With panic buying, uncertainty and much confusion across the board, retail businesses can make a meaningful difference during times of crisis, all through effective digital communication.
As the adage goes, communication really is key during times of crisis. Clearly, communication with customers will be best executed through digital means. Understanding your audiences and proving this through good communication has never been more important. However, although consumers are housebound and keeping safe, buying certain products may be the last thing on their minds. The challenge for many retail brands offering ‘non-essential’ goods is knowing how to keep these customers engaged over a prolonged quieter period. Some retailers may even question whether they should still be striving for engagement, but the answer is yes – whilst being mindful that how and with what will depend on the audience segment. Customers are keen to see that retailers are there for them and keen to see them make their lives easier during this time.
For instance, regular digital communication with consumers on stock levels may be especially useful and important. Understanding the customers’ previous purchasing and browsing behaviour and then notifying them when key items of interest are back in stock could prove extremely helpful. Even before panic buying and stockpiling took hold, our own research suggested that 63% of consumers would like more brands to give them the option of receiving a digital notification when an item that is out of stock becomes available again at their local store. Translating this to online, it may be possible to encourage engagement and drive further ecommerce purchases simply through useful and regular communication with key customers.
Similarly, providing product recommendations on items that are similar or close to the items low in stock is not just potentially useful to the shopper but also beneficial to the retailer too. This tactic provides an opportunity to cross sell products that may otherwise remain unsold. Knowing the estimated lifecycle of a product and communicating reminders at a time when it’s likely the product will run out may also provide the customer with peace of mind that they won’t forget to re-order an item. They may then be less likely to stockpile as a result.
On top of this, letting customers know that you are adapting to changing circumstances by offering new services is another great way to turn challenge into opportunity. The current situation means that delivery services will be more useful than ever, even if this wasn’t part of your original business plan. There are ways to begin getting creative with this too. If, for example, you own a bakery business, regular email notification on the status of daily bakes along with a few rounds of deliveries to the homes of engaged customers could prove extremely beneficial to developing and growing a healthy brand-customer relationship.
Deliveries will only increase in importance, as we continue to discourage consumers to flock to shops to pick up essential items. Restaurant businesses could even adapt to offer portioned food packs by delivery and set up online sessions to show customers how to cook these dishes at home. This could potentially reduce the number of consumers regularly hitting the supermarkets and lead to a much more engage customer following.
Although these are extremely unsettling times, now is unique opportunity to press pause and really put yourself into the shoes of your customers. What do they need right at this moment in time? Similarly, retail brand marketers should be asking themselves what they, as consumers themselves want from their favourite retail brands currently? With these thoughtful considerations in mind, it’s time to re-think about strategy and genuinely become more customer centric by creating more meaningful brand experiences.