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“The New Normal”: What Does This Mean For Retail Marketers?

The past few months have been a pretty wild ride for all of us. We’ve gone from initial bewilderment to stir craziness to complete quarantine fatigue. Some of us have been severely impacted personally beyond minor inconveniences. How can we cope with the continuing COVID-19 crisis, especially without knowing when things will start to normalize again – if they ever do?

No matter how each one of us is being affected, COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, from the way we stay in touch with our friends to the way we do business. Amazon and Netflix stocks are going through the roof, while some of the former behemoths of business, such as Hertz, JCPenney, Pier 1, and 24h Fitness, have all filed for bankruptcy. And, of course, a lot is changing for us marketers as well. Our budgets are being slashed and we are being asked to weather the storm, be agile and creative and to do more with less.

The question I really wanted to focus on is: How can retail businesses make sense of the current challenges? Which aspects do they really need to pay close attention to and what we they do to adjust to our not-so-new reality?How can retail companies figure out what they need to do to keep getting ahead and not let their company be the next victim of this crisis?

Every business is unique and, as a result, there is no blanket solution for everyone. In this blog post, I have focused on several questions that you as a business should ask yourself and then charted certain paths forward depending on your unique factors. I won’t be able to cover every scenario in this post, but hopefully it will provide you with a useful starting point from which to plot your future in the “new normal”.

As a retail business, ask yourself these questions:

Q1: Is my business e-commerce or brick and mortar focused?

If you were already e-commerce focused before this crisis then chances are business is good, maybe its even taken off to unprecedented levels. Besides Amazon also makers of home bread baking kits can’t keep up with demand, and RVs are booked out for the rest of the summer. But if your business is booming, you probably don’t need my advice so let’s focus on the others.

If you are traditionally a brick-and-mortar business, then it is way past time to expand into e-commerce. Even if that hasn’t been your focus, you hopefully already have an online presence, maybe even done some SEO, and have an email marketing list? If that’s the case, then get active immediately! You need to engage with your customers now more than ever and personalized communications are a great way to do that.

And if your business is a little of both brick and mortar and e-commerce, then I think there is a huge opportunity to mesh those worlds together even more. Call and collect options offer convenient alternatives to your customers. Burger King, for example, is currently giving away two free kids meals for every purchase made via their app.

If you have several brick-and-mortar locations and are able to shift to local delivery, perhaps you can even beat out some of the global competition by offering (more or less) instant home delivery. This will even give you the opportunity to expand your marketing into new communications channels, such as sending an SMS when the delivery is on its way or a push notification when a customer’s order is ready for pickup. Adding new channels to your marketing strategy is a great way to strengthen loyalty and get customers to spend more. A modern Martech Stack also facilitates contactless operations, such as ordering ahead, making a reservation, or having your customers make payments through your app.

Q2: What are my (legal/physical) limitations?

This will depend a lot on where you are located and what you are selling. Is there a spike or an outbreak in your state or county? What legal stipulations are you under? As mentioned in the previous paragraph, if local regulations have shut down all non-essential stores, then delivery and pick up options are your go to.

If you are allowed to open again, then there might be an opportunity to really connect your online and offline business. You could have a special re-opening sale and provide additional incentives for online shoppers to shop in your stores. Combining that sort of messaging with added information about safety measures and precautions that you are taking to make sure shoppers are safe, is also very important.

We are all, at a minimum, inconvenienced by COVID-19, so anything you can do to make your customer’s life easier and more convenient by going above and beyond in these turbulent times, will come back tenfold.

Q3: Who am I selling to?

Understanding your target audience is absolutely crucial in good times – but even more so in bad. While options are limited for all of us, understanding the values and habits of our target group is going to be the key to selecting strategies that are most likely to succeed.

If your audience skews hip and younger, you can align your added services and value-add options with coolness and convenience. I’d probably also focus heavily on online automated options for this more tech-savvy cohort.

If your prospects come are older, focus heavily on health and safety. Go above and beyond with what you are doing to make their shopping experience a safe one and also offer a variety of options, such as phone orders and easy delivery processes, just to take the fear out of the unknown a little bit.

Regional considerations will also come into play here. Is there currently an outbreak in your area or are things getting back to normal? Do you sell to a national or even global audience or are you targeting people in a specific area?

Q4: What has changed most for my customer base due to COVID-19?

What do they miss most? How can your products and services provide a semblance of normalcy to your customers? The key here is providing something of value that at least approximates the feeling that they get from the old experience.

I’ve seen quite a few local restaurants and night-time venues provide takeout and delivery options centered around the idea of date night. For example, romance packages include a bottle of wine, special packages for small groups with appetizers and cocktails, live streaming DJ sets.

Get creative here! You have to find ways to make the old experience that they valued with you available in some way. For e-commerce, this might mean uploading more product images from different angles or videos or other interactive elements to their websites; making your return policies more generous and so on.

We have also seen a lot of brands focus on non-revenue driven communication that addresses issues like mental health, local resources, or supporting a cause that is in line with their values. While understanding that businesses are in a tough spot, many customers expect irresistible offers these days, so using this opportunity to promote your values and connect with your customers more deeply is a great play.

Here some great examples:

  • Bank of America is calling all 66 million of their customers to make sure that they have the resources to get through the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Uber Eats is donating 300,000 meals to health care workers and first responders and has also waived commission fees for independent restaurant partners during the pandemic.

  • Delta’s CEO has announced that he will forgo his salary for a year to help prevent layoffs.

Q5: How can I provide more value to my customers during these times?

This question really goes to the heart of the matter and a lot of these ideas have come up in the previous paragraphs. Everyone is having a tough time right now. They are tired of being stuck at home, stuck in videos calls, unable to meet their friends and family, and so ultimately, it’s about making life a little easier for your customers.

Extended return windows, free delivery, added pickup options, more engaging online content, special offers and virtual services are just some examples. And please be pro-active around all of your messaging. If you know that there are shipping delays, please manage your customers expectations. When products are back in stock, make sure you send an email to those visitors that viewed them. Tell them how you are responding and why.

Being trustworthy and transparent is going to strengthen customer loyalty.

Q6: Which customers are most important to me?

This might be the most contentious point on my list because the obvious answer is EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!!! Especially in these times, you can’t afford to lose a single one. And that is, of course, correct.

There is, however, one more strong trend that we have noticed in terms of customer behavior over the last 3 to 4 months. Customers are spending more time online and spending more money online shopping, but they are consolidating the number of brands that they shop with. Rather than trusting 10 different companies with their business, a lot of shoppers have whittled things down to the three or four top sites that they identify and do business with.

This means that you should pay special attention to your most loyal customers and make sure you tap into that sentiment and build strong relationships. Adding special offers, conditions, and services for this cohort to make them feel valued and prevent churn is going to provide huge paybacks down the road.

In addition, try to identify customers that have the potential to become a part of this group or are close to meeting the criteria to joining it and run special nurture campaigns in order to build trust, brand identification, and loyalty. Finding new customers can be really tough in the current climate, so focusing your attention on your current funnel and high value/high potential customer groups is where you can find the lowest hanging fruit.

Wrap up:

So, what do we marketers need to consider for the future? Unfortunately, the answer is: It depends. It depends on your business, your products and services, your current local laws and regulations, and your customers.

That being said, there are a few lessons to take away:

  • Do your best to build trust by focusing on value, care, and support

  • Be transparent, honest and open with your customers

  • Provide options and meet your customers where they are, with contactless operations, or innovative delivery and shopping models

  • Do good, be real, and don’t oversell

And quite honestly, this is something that we as marketers want to do more of, all the time. While generating more revenue through clever automated pop-up campaigns can be equally rewarding, I think the opportunity for us to take a step back to think about what is really important and focus on values that we want our customers to align with is a far greater and meaningful challenge.

This article was first published by MAPP. Permission to use has been granted by the publisher.

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