eStar presents Comma Consulting digital strategist Greg Randall, who discusses four things retailers need to do right now. 

COVID-19 means retailers a face change never seen before. But customers also face the same degree of change. At the time of writing, retailers fall within four classifications:

1: Retailer has closed all physical stores and shut down its online channel.

2: Retailer has closed all physical stores but continues taking online orders and can fulfill these orders as they come through.

3: Retailer has closed all physical stores, continues taking online orders but cannot fulfill orders as staff can’t access distribution centers.

4: A retailer has all physical stores open as well as their online channel but are inundated with orders and cannot keep up with demand, causing bad experiences and lengthy delays.

What compounds change for customers is not knowing which retailer falls within each classification. Classification #4 should be obvious, but customers won’t understand the degree of stress the retailer is under.

For customers we’re either open or closed. But varying government rules and restrictions have adjusted this version of reality, introducing grey areas. This is merely one of many issues customers are now facing.

Retailers must now look outward and launch a series of 'empathetic activities'; this is feeling a customers’ pain and use this perspective to adjust products, services and communications.

43% of consumers find it “reassuring” to hear from brands they trust and 40% want to know how companies are responding.

This approach is achieved via four activities:

1. Keep informed
2. Be transparent
3. Be local
4. Adjust in real time

Activity #1 – Keep informed

To keep informed retailers, need to listen to the market and listen to their customers.

Listen to the market

There are tools to identify the sentiment of a target market. Some examples being seen in March 2020: 

1. Searches for “how to make hand sanitizer” have grown by 5,000%

2. Searches for “grocery delivery service near me” have grown by 200%

3. Searches for “pharmacy near me” have grown by 50%

This approach informs a retailer if the current business changes and product/services align to the changing market sentiment.

Nike recently identified the upswing in demand for health-related products and equipment. At the time of writing, Nike was offering a 25% off sitewide sale, which is uncharacteristic.

Nike positioned this as a gesture of goodwill, saying:

“Right now, it’s more important than ever to make sure athletes like you are healthy and positive…. That’s why we’re giving you 25% off everything.”

Listen to your customers

Regardless of your business classification, listen to what customers are saying to you, listen to their questions, and gain clarity on what they want.

One thing is for certain, with the changes going on around the customer, their questions will be things you have not heard before.

Some examples of what your customers are looking for include: 

1. Are employees taking calls or responding to emails?
2. What are the wait times if calling support?
3. Can customers engage with staff on social channels?
4. What are safe options to pick up and receive online orders?
5. Are there other ways to engage with an employee?

Activity #2 –Be transparent

By being transparent, a retailer’s first challenge is proactively communicating meaningful business updates to the customer. The second is to communicate in a way which reaches everyone: email, social etc. 

But keep in mind, every customer’s inbox is being inundated, so apply a mix: social, SMS, site content.

Activity #3 - Be Local

Being 'local' is being transparent at the community level. New research proves small businesses are adding value.

COVID-19’s impact means people are actively seeking products and services nearby. Being confined to their homes make proximity a key part of their decision on who to engage with.

One example is some small businesses FaceTiming with customers to take orders and answer questions. This is working for all types of retail including fashion.

Activity #4 – Adjust in real time

The above activities enable retailers to understand market, customer sentiment and guides meaningful communications.

Adjusting in real time is taking information and applying immediate change.

A sale like Nike’s is one thing (big business). But changing how you engage with customers is very different, such as FaceTiming customers.

Customers are looking to retailers for preparedness. Through this uncertainty, customers are gravitating towards retailers who are seen to be listening, proactively communicating and rapidly evolving to meet new customer needs.


About Greg Randall - Greg is a globally recognised leader in customer experience design and eCommerce/Digital best practice. He is a published author and after a 5-year research project it culminated a comprehensive guide to success for eCommerce Managers around the world.



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