How Retailers Can Care for Their Customers and Community During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Amid the constantly developing news about the coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world, retailers should be thinking about how to best service their customers by creating a safe space. As a former retail marketing executive, I would urge retailers, both traditional and digital-first, to keep three main things in mind as they serve their customers and businesses during this critical time.

1. Your Ecommerce Business Will Need to Work Hard and Efficiently to Pick Up the Dip in Store Traffic

Now is the time to ensure your digital experience is relevant and frictionless. I think it’s important to review the customer journey and see any notable shifts in your customer funnel. Here are five things I would do:

  • As store traffic is affected, is online traffic increasing? If so, lean into your direct digital marketing channels, such as email, push notifications and SMS. I would also build out a journey for in-store shoppers and online shoppers.
  • Target customers in impacted areas with special promotions to drive site traffic. I would also recommend testing increasing paid media spend for the time being.
  • Start with a nurture campaign to your most loyal customers and let them know you’re here for them, however they choose to engage during this time. Special rewards or bounceback offers to shop online are two helpful tactics for helping shift sales online.
  • If a promotion strategy is not the route you wish to take, look at honing in on the upsell and cross-sell touchpoints in your triggered email messaging. Try as hard as you can to recreate the in-store experience digitally. For example, a browse abandonment series is a great place to show customers similar items for a potential upsell opportunity. Including items “frequently bought with,” perhaps in a cart abandonment email, is another great way to increase average order value. I would definitely test and measure with both of these examples, but any incremental lifts will help maximize the shift in consumer traffic towards online shopping.
  • Get creative and repurpose your retail workforce to help drive engagement and site traffic by producing content. Employees are usually your greatest brand advocates and customers. If possible, set up employees and store associates with the option to post on their own social media, create video content for YouTube, and provide them with promo codes for tracking and payment.

2. Be Timely With Your Communication

As the situation continues to develop on a state and federal level in the U.S., retailers will need to ensure their updates reflect the most relevant, up-to-date information. First and foremost, communication needs to be timely and localized. This helps customers trust the information and have confidence that it follows the directives of the local and national authorities.

Social media and email are the two channels I would lean on during this time. Both offer powerful ways to deliver updates to the masses. However, email will be the best way to deliver the relevant information that needs to be communicated at a more personal level, or when more information is required. For example, many of my peers in retail work for companies that have shipping warehouses in California, which are now shut down by order of the state. This means timely email communication of impact to orders being fulfilled is absolutely essential and customers will be looking out for that communication in their inboxes.

3. Get Personal

Typically when I say this, I’m talking about personalization. In this case, I mean that retailers should prepare honest communications with their customer base about the measures being taken with their best interests in mind. Empathy matters a lot, as does the understanding that every customer is feeling differently right now. I believe brands should be building long-term relationships with their customers and as with all relationships, there are ups and down.

I appreciate how Revolve has adjusted its email marketing since stay-at-home orders have been in place. Revolve’s marketing campaigns are now focused on work from home looks, which is relevant as many people are working from home at this time. They also recently targeted their best customers, like myself, letting me know I am a high value shopper. Because of that, I will expect to see early access emails and access to their personal stylists, Ally and Ryan. I found it to be a cohesive strategy with relevant touch points using personal and personalized elements.

The true impact of Coronavirus on retail remains to be seen, but as the world continues to monitor and take precautions, retailers also have a responsibility to uphold the safety of customers while still driving sales. My hope is for our industry to take the lead with the safety precautions being taken globally while considering the opportunities to adjust and shift towards a focus on the digital customer experience.

Monica Deretich is the former VP of Marketing and CRM at the TechStyle Fashion Group, and is currently serving as a Retail Advisor to Sailthru.

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