Retail has perhaps felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic more keenly than any other industry. With the majority of physical outlets shuttering their doors and many staff furloughed, brands are reacting and adapting to one of the most disruptive periods many of us will ever experience.
While it may seem like there’s no such thing as ‘business-as-usual’, there are ways for retailers to adjust their operations, keep customers and employees happy, and perhaps set the stage for a new way of working after the worst has passed.
Retailers using the power for good
While long-term stability should absolutely be front-of-mind for every retail brand, many are using their capabilities and resources as a power for good during these uncertain times.
Fashion brands like Prada and Burberry are using their factories to manufacture facemasks and hospital gowns; LVMH is supporting French hospital charity FHP-HF; and Unilever has contributed €100 million-worth of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food for national health authorities across the world.
The way retailers conduct themselves during this period will not be quickly forgotten by customers. It’s important that brands don’t simply sit back and wait for this storm to blow over – those that take proactive steps towards helping and supporting those in need will be remembered for the good they did.
Customer needs and expectations are changing
Customers are craving conscientious and human connections with brands, now more than ever – meaning that the data collected by retail brands has taken on an even more critical level of importance.
Being able to identify the best opportunities to personalise experiences and make it easy for customer to take action is fast-becoming the most important tool available to retail marketers during this time.
The benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning have been discussed in detail for years now, the current climate has shone the spotlight on their importance in delivering relevant and personalised experiences at scale.
While their names have, in the past, conjured up images of faceless robots and impersonal interaction, the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have been discussed. AI and ML will help large-scale companies, especially, to adopt a more one-to-one, caring approach to the customer experience, through identifying what is most valuable to individual customers.
Digital commerce has never been more important
Many customers are, understandably, treating online platforms like Amazon as their one-stop shop for products they’d otherwise have visited a store for.
This has highlighted the importance of possessing a robust and reliable online commerce platform; which can support increased demand; cut out the so-called ‘middle man’ (i.e. the big online platforms); and help brands go to market with new products and services quickly and effectively.
It’s important for retailers to maintain a meaningful local presence, supporting local communities and those in need – and their primary business model needs to adapt to one that’s online, and built on self-service or home delivery.
If retail brands can support this model across all potential customer touchpoints, with a mobile-first commerce mentality front-of-mind, and enhanced payment options (contactless etc.), then they’re well on the road to mitigating the disruptive impact of the current lockdown limitations.
Flexibility and agility is critical
The past few months have taught us that the need for flexibility and agility is absolutely critical. The disruptive nature of the current climate is likely to result in a permanent step-change in how the retail industry operates.
This can be something as simple as the toyshop down the road from me (a small outlet with no digital commerce presence) now using WhatsApp to connect with local customers and take orders. Or, in the UK, pubs and restaurants teaming up with local greengrocers and butchers to deliver food packages around the community.
This is, arguably, one of the most difficult and disruptive times in living memory, for all of us. But, it’s also brought out the best in humanity, and businesses across the board have a responsibility and duty to be part of that good. Those who adopt a ready and willing attitude to not only help and support, but also to innovate and change, have already taken their first step on the path to long-term stability and success.
As the situation with COVID-19 quickly unfolds, Adobe is committed to giving you the support and resources to navigate this challenging time – learn more.