Tips & Tricks

Retail in the Time of COVID-19, Part 6: Business As Usual

May 26, 2020

“Business as usual.” Let’s be honest, it’s doubtful those words will be uttered by any retailer for a long time to come. And for some, that’s a good thing. Simply going back to the way things were before would actually be a grave mistake for many businesses. However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the Retail world. Unlike most other business sectors, Retail is actually one of the few categories seeing mixed results. While industries like Travel and Restaurants are being hit hard across the board, Retail has winners and losers.

We know what category you want to be in. Let’s focus on who’s winning, why, and how to get you there. When you boil it down, the most successful retailers are doing the following:

Becoming Essential

Given their “essential” status, grocers, hardware stores and Big Box retailers are clearly at an advantage. They can keep their doors open, but other “non-essential” retailers have been forced to close their doors. This is a time for these brands to get creative while also staying consistent with their product and messaging. For example, apparel brands can’t all of a sudden start selling groceries or home appliances. However, they can conduct some internal-analysis and brand reflection to consider how their products and services can become more important in consumer’s lives. Yes, one might not need new makeup at this time, but the brand can include creative, extra flair, like a personal video conference with a beautician?

Optimizing Online

These days, having a functioning website or app is table stakes for any business. At the very least, businesses need an online destination for consumers to go to for information about products and services. But having a website is the bare minimum. It’s never been more important for businesses to be able to offer their products and services digitally, and for consumers to complete transactions safely and remotely. It’s no surprise that retailers doing the best are the ones that have invested heavily in distribution capabilities that make their products easy to access. In fact, this is so important that a number of delivery services, like PostMates, DoorDash and Instacart, have established their own brands during this time. These companies took advantage of a channel that some retailers and restaurants failed to incorporate, and are now reaping the benefits. Now, it’s safe to say that all retailers can no longer rely on consumers coming to them — they must figure out how to get their products and services directly to their consumers. Let’s not be surprised if one of the aforementioned delivery services gets gobbled up by a smart retailer or restaurant in need of a “last-mile” solution.

Marketing Nimbly

Mindshare - Now is the time to adjust, not abandon. Retailers that go dark will struggle to regain mindshare when consumers are bombarded by the tsunami of new campaigns that try to time the “reopening” of our economy. While the message and the mix might change, the emphasis on retaining mindshare should continue.

Messaging - To start, businesses need to embrace creative vehicles that can be turned around quickly. Businesses lucky enough to be considered essential should focus on new hours, new offers and new services. Businesses with closed stores should redirect consumers to their ecommerce options. And businesses completely shut down should stay top of mind with smart branding, so they don’t have to start from ground zero upon reentry into the marketplace (whenever that is).

Mix - New mediums for new messages. Consider new media consumption patterns that have drastically changed, and are likely to be altered forever. With more ad-free TV viewing than ever before, and with sports gone for the foreseeable future, the media mix needs to change. Regardless of medium - video, display or audio, the focus needs to be on publishers who can offer addressable audiences at scale that aren’t behind the subscription pay wall.

Amazon thrives in all three of these critical functions, so it’s no surprise that they have emerged as the clear winner during this global pandemic. Their “Day One” mantra that was established years ago has served them well at a time like this: “Never become complacent and always place the customer first.” Jeff Bezos explained this further in a letter to shareholders in 2016, saying that, “There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day One vitality.”

Retailers need to rethink their mantra, or develop one if they don’t have one. Why emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic only to revert back to “business as usual?” There has never been a better time for brands to take a hard look at their products, their platforms, and their approach to their customers. As consumers reshape aspects of their lives, it’s critical that brands rethink aspects of their business. For many retailers this is long overdue. For the lucky few, this is verification of their well thought out mantra that considers the customer first. But either way, the best thing retailers can take away from these tough times is a real commitment to change.

If you're ready to start adjusting and upgrading your messaging, visit SoundCheck for insights, tips, and best practices.

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