What retailers should be doing right now in response to the Coronavirus
For the retail industry, the coronavirus pandemic has produced two distinct groups: the haves and the have-nots, and we’re not talking about toilet paper. Many brick-and-mortar retailers have been forced to temporarily go dark, which means people aren’t physically shopping in their stores and employees are out of work. On the extreme other side, certain retailers, such as grocery stores and online delivery services, are facing the opposite problem, with customers panic shopping and buying more than usually needed. And, as consumers spend more time in isolation and social distancing, online retail will continue to boom.
Embrace omni-channel marketing
Already, the coronavirus has taught retailers one important lesson: if you didn’t have an omni-channel strategy before, now is the time to implement one. That means a fully integrated shopping experience with a strong online presence, home delivery options, private appointments, and constant interaction on social media. Those forward-thinking businesses that already had an omni-channel presence must also add a new dynamic by creating new shopping options in the days of coronavirus.
Retailers that are currently closed like Best Buy are allowing customers to pick up online orders curbside; while others like Home Depot are limiting the amount of people that come into their store at one time. Grocery stores, such as Publix and Walmart, have introduced special shopping hours for seniors who are at high-risk or those with disabilities. This is the time for retailers to leverage their omni-channel presence — letting customers know they’re there for them by solving problems and making this virus more bearable.
Find ways to be creative and personally interact with customers
Most people are missing human interaction right now. Similar to those pop-up concerts on social media or museums offering virtual tours, retailers need to be creative to keep their audiences engaged. Interaction is still important, whether that means offering live Q&As to answer questions about products or sharing how-to videos. If retailers are sending out emails to customers and shoppers, messages should be meaningful and useful to their particular demographic. For instance, offer shopping appointments to seniors or promote big online sales or pre-order information for products that are launching soon.
Prioritize safety and communicate
For those retailers who are open, keeping their employees and customers safe should be a top priority. We’ve already seen the news of workers at Amazon warehouses, including here in Florida, testing positive for coronavirus. Companies should have a strong plan around disinfecting their spaces, making hand sanitizers available to customers, and allowing a certain number of people through the door or shopping at set times. Merchandising and making sure that store shelves stay stocked is just as imporant, so people know they can depend on you for needed products.
Retailers should be pivoting right now. At my company, T-ROC, we have more than 10,000 W2 employees and a contingent workforce of more than 20,000 that can be leveraged during this time to accommodate retailers as they need hundreds of thousands of workers to keep up with the high demand. Other retailers may need to help their employees find work or they may need to repurpose their staff to accommodate current needs.
The five Cs to guide retailers through this crisis
It’s hard to know how to react in times like this. John A. Quelch, the dean of the University of Miami Herbert Business School, has come up with seven Cs to guide leaders through the coronavirus, and I’ve whittled them down to five for retailers.
- Calm. Don’t panic and present yourself as calm to employees, so they trust you to make rational decisions.
- Communication. There’s no such thing as over communicating right now. Many organizations are communicating with employees daily via teleconferences or video conferencing.
- Collaboration. Use your entire organization to come up with strategies to make it through this.
- Confidence. Employees and customers need to feel that you have the business under control and are making proper, active decisions to get through this.
- Compassion. Do each other favors, pick up a shift, or recommend a babysitter.
That last one really hits home for me. At T-ROC, through the help of our customers, we’ve been able to pay our employees who are not working, through the end of March and hope to do the same in April. We’ve also paid a premium to those who do have to go to work during this unsettling time. We’ve been flooded with emails of appreciation from our employees. Acts of care and compassion for employees will never be forgotten, even when the coronavirus is finally a thing of the past.
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