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Retail Rethink: customer engagement

Image: Adobe Stock

Past recessions have shown the importance of continuing with marketing rather than cutting back and the same will prove to be true during this pandemic. Consumers looking for transparency and brand stories rather than just price will judge brands and retailers on their actions during this time and these companies are keen to be seen doing the right thing for staff, customers and the wider community.

Messaging has shifted, depending on the vertical, from the grocers showing how they are helping vulnerable customers and stocking the current high demand items to travel companies providing inspirational content without any calls to buy a holiday now. Some brands have been keen to align with influencers who have upped their game during lockdown. Nike and Adidas are in talks with Joe Wicks who was quick to offer daily PE on YouTube. Others have looked to the new heroes of NHS staff and their own employees including delivery drivers and supermarket pickers while others have turned to their own customers.

Portuguese jeans company Salsa Jeans saw a 17.27% increase in ecommerce conversion rates and a 4.78% interaction rate with its “Never Surrender” UGC campaign which it introduced in April. The brand encouraged customers to post content featuring Salsa Jeans’ products on social media with #NeverSurrender during lockdown.

“Since mid-March, we have tried to adapt, creating a new concept that we wanted to start communicating: Never Surrender. We have tons of communications around this concept, like a charity capsule collection (100% of the profits will be donated to the Red Cross), content related with ‘Everything we can do together, even though apart, a tribute to our Heroes (the people on the frontline of this battle), etc. And for us it was super important to adapt the website to this movement,” says Simão Figueiredo, ecommerce and UX specialist, Salsa Jeans.

With its adapted UGC strategy, the brand not only demonstrates its innovative resiliency to customers, but also continues to nourish its strong community with authentic engagement. All of this is achieved through a brand identity that customers help to create with their shared content.

“This concept can help us because the consumer that lands on our homepage will see content from people continuing to post their looks in their homes. They are continuing with their life, they are super happy, they are wearing jeans at home. This can help other customers who land on Salsa, and they don’t know the brand. They can see these images that can create a different feeling for them,” adds Figueiredo.

Gauging consumer feeling

Celebrity and high profile influencers who would normally be at glamorous events or travelling around the world have been locked down along with everyone else. Aligning brand values with the right influencers has been key to marketing matches and this will continue. However, as consumers reappraise what is valuable to them their appetites post-Covid may be different to where they were before the pandemic.

As the country has pulled together and then become used to the situation in which the pandemic has put them, retailers have been keen to understand how their customers are feeling, asking them to fill in a survey post purchase. “Buying behaviours have changed and for a lot of customers online is the only way that they can buy as they don’t have the ability to go into a store,” says Peter Sheldon, senior director commerce strategy, Adobe. “Ecommerce may not have been their primary or first choice of how they transacted,” he adds.

The increase in ecommerce has rewarded retailers with an influx of new customers and an opportunity to learn more about them and how they are thinking, something that isn’t easy to gauge offline.

Digital enables retailers to be agile, reacting to changing behaviours and market forces adjusting their own budgets accordingly. Budgets overall have been cut – Adobe has seen a big slowdown on general ad spend with retailers “drastically cutting their digital marketing spend on Google, Facebook and so forth,” says Sheldon. “But they’ve really increased their commutations via email because they can do this very cheaply, almost for nothing,” he says.

“We didn’t do any marketing for two months. Customers were finding us through Google and word-of-mouth so we cut back on marketing almost completely and even now we are existing on our own internal emails sent from our customer database,” says Chris Maddox, chief executive of Poundshop. Panic buying in March saw the level of daily orders at the value FMCG pureplay increase by 740%.

Retailers have kept customer care teams available to interact with consumers by telephone, email and social channels. Home working has become normal and Henry Birch, ceo, Very Group is not the only retail leader to say publicly that they are proud of staff. “All of our colleagues who can work from home are doing so successfully, including many of our customer care team, who are now working from their homes for the first time,” he said.

Changes have been made online too and show how retailers are listening to their customers. Credit plans and ways for shoppers to ‘pay later’ have been introduced as retailers realise that some people may be in a worse financial situation.

As the situation changes, and stores start to reopen in phases, understanding consumers will remain paramount:

  • Will a consumer return to stores or keep shopping online? An increasing number of consumers say they will carry on shopping as now rather than returning to how they shopped before, according to the RetailX Covid-19 Tracker.
  • How have individual consumer’s financial circumstances changed? We are already seeing greater than 50% decrease in online job adverts.
  • What is the level of pent up demand and how much of that can be captured online as consumers realise that they don’t want to return to stores?
  • How are their health and level of anxiety about going to a high street or retail park to pick up an online order or attend an event?

With only a quarter of its stores reopening at the start of a phased plan, John Lewis focused on the customer experience and its loyal shoppers launching a series of workshops online in June. The free workshops, exclusively for myJohnLewis and myWaitrose members, addressed lockdown side effects from poor posture to disturbed sleep and unhealthy eating habits. The live, virtual classes could be booked online along with other virtual services launched in recent times including nursery, home and styling advice services.

“Lockdown will have taken its toll on us all in different ways, whether it’s long hours working on an unsuitable chair in our bedrooms, unhealthy snacking, disturbed sleep or lack of proper exercise, as well as the impact on our mental health. We’re really excited to be doing our bit to help and have created a broad range of content with some of the nation’s superstars as well as our own in house experts to look at wellbeing from a variety of angles – we hope that there’s something here for everyone however small,” says Peter Cross, partner and director of customer experience at Waitrose and John Lewis & Partners.

There is much uncertainty about the road ahead for retailers – and for all business in the UK – so understanding consumers and remaining agile to their needs and individual circumstances will be tested.

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