3 things retailers can do to survive Covid-19
We’re in the midst of the biggest global peace-time crisis and every sector has been hit hard by the spread of Covid-19.
Along with hospitality, retail has been one of the hardest hit with governments across the world imposing lockdowns and forcing stores to close. With many stores already operating on fine margins, the crisis is biting hard and retail is in turmoil.
The worst thing to do in a crisis is to panic. However, this has – understandably – been the reaction of many retailers as the combination of reduced cash flow, plummeting demand, and store closures form a perfect storm that has many fearing for their survival.
Without wanting to downplay the severity of the situation, even the worst storms will pass and, with careful navigation of the tumultuous and unpredictable waters, a course can be plotted to ensure you navigate your way through these most challenging of circumstances.
Now, more than ever, is the time for the industry to support each other, to work collaboratively to find new ways to meet the demands of isolated customers, and to prepare and be ready for when the storm passes.
But retailers must not sit tight and wait for this to pass. Action is needed. And in many cases, this action is digital transformation or, as Forbes put it: “The current crisis should eliminate any uncertainty about the wisdom and urgency of fundamental digital transformation.” Some retailers have already embraced digital transformation, some have thought about it, and others have ignored it completely.
This crisis will accelerate digital transformation in retail. Whether it’s a single view of inventory across supply chains, warehouse, and stores or being able to sell anywhere and fulfil everywhere, retailers need to find a new balance between the physical and the digital.
As Andy Halliwell, senior director Retail Strategy at digital consultancy Publicis Sapient, says in this article: “Given shifting consumer attitudes, retail will find its new balance between store sales and digital channels, much earlier than previously predicted. This doesn’t mean the store is dead – far from it, going shopping will likely be the antidote to everyone’s cabin fever. But stores will need to adopt a more flexible role in the business, supporting digital propositions and acting as a collection / flagship rather than trying to drive revenue per sqft.”
So, blind panic aside, what can be done right now to firstly get through the crisis and, secondly, ensure your business is in the best position once it passes?
1. Care for your customers
Everyone is scared right now and this includes your customers. Just because they might not be buying from you right now or visiting your stores, it doesn’t mean you should forget about them. They need reassurance and the familiar from the brands they trust the most, especially those you are in lockdown or self-isolating. Communicate with them regularly and think of ways you can help them. When we come through this, consumers are going to remember the brands who had their backs when times were tough and they’ll reward them for it.
So, instead of your email marketing focussing on sales and promotions, why not use it as an opportunity to give value back to your customers? A great example is fitness clothing brands creating home workouts for their customers and sharing them on their social channels and in their email campaigns. A new pair of sports trainers aren’t going to be a priority right now but ways to workout at home for the fitness fanatics definitely will be. Ask yourself what your customers need right now and then identify the ways you can give it to them.
Even now, customer experience is everything. And, with the majority of sales taking place online, this means making your omnichannel and online experience as seamless as possible. Help your customers, make life easy for them, and they’ll pay you back for it once we come through the current crisis.
We’re seeing brands diversify everywhere. Cafes are turning themselves into food stores, drinks companies are manufacturing hand sanitizer, and many others are creating online offerings for their customers. If you see an opportunity to pivot and diversify then do it and do it quickly.
This diversification extends to other areas of your business as well like expanding your fulfillment options, planning for local product sources, identifying alternate store formats and creating new product offerings. And it includes looking at new payment models like taking advantage of a mobile POS solution to be able to sell directly to the customer with home delivery and manage payment through a mobile phone directly upon delivery.
3. Accelerate unified commerce
This crisis has already seen a spike in online orders for some retailers as people turn to e-commerce to meet their needs. We know retail success depends on the successful digitalization of physical stores and – in a post-Covid-19 world – this is going to take on even more importance.
There will be a resurgence in bricks and mortar stores when lockdowns end and consumers flock en masse to the high street. Their expectations will have changed too and consumers will expect a variety of fulfillment options, including free shipping and returns. Yes, we’re now in the middle of one of the biggest challenges retailers have ever faced but there is still opportunity, especially when it comes to preparing your stores and your systems for the future.
Of course, right now, many businesses will be risk-averse due to the unpredictable nature of the current situation. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning for the future and looking at ways you can meet new customer expectations once this crisis is over – whether that’s through improving your inventory management, empowering your associates and putting systems in place to exceed customer expectations when they return to your stores.
What’s clear is, it’s now more important than ever before to be able to sell everywhere and fulfil anywhere. Even large retailers have to be nimble, agile, and flexible with the ability to react instantly to changing circumstances and customer expectations. Once the panic subsides, start planning for the future, start helping your customers and keep moving forwards.
We’re happy to have a chat and give advice about how you, as a retailer, can take action now to protect your business and ensure you’re in the best position once we’re through this current crisis.