COVID-19 has altered huge swaths of our world over the last few months, and the retail industry has had to adapt faster than ever before.
Within weeks, all industries were forced to quickly rethink business models and customer relationships, and in many areas, retailers became the silent heroes that kept things moving.
They rapidly switched to online models, enabled employees to work from home, and navigated the complex logistics of order fulfilment in a drastically different ‘normal.’
During this accelerated and intense experience, it’s become clear: technology and communication channels are the lifeline of the new world we live in.
Trends shaping the retail industry
Companies that had already begun to or fully embraced new technology in retail, like omnichannel engagement, personalization, AI, chatbots, and BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up In Store)—trends that were already affecting the retail industry before the pandemic—were able to respond faster and adapt their business models more effectively in the face of COVID-19.
These digital-first retailers were able to respond faster by simply refocusing their strategies and expanding the reach of their existing customer engagement tools:
- Increase the volumes of personalized mass customer notifications, customized and contextualized for each customer interaction
- Enable video as an additional channel for remote engagement
- Rely on alerts to communicate risk mitigation plans and even shift changes for employees
AI and chatbots
- Amplify self-service support, enabling customers to get their most pressing (and common) questions answered quickly, without needing to rely on a human support agent
- Define context-based ticket escalation, ensuring those customers who need one-on-one engagement are able to get it, quickly
- Deliver a seamless transition from chatbot to human support regardless of personnel location as many teams became remote
BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up In Store)
- Activated agile “buy online, pick up in-store” notifications to guide customers, and explain how to prepare for pick ups
- Enabled internal/external alerts on “last mile” deliveries to ensure seamless handoff
- Activate alerts for sales associates via text or voice to prepare and hand-off orders to support contactless delivery
These trends, already affecting the retail industry prior to COVID-19, are even more relevant today. Let’s look at how they can fit within a retailer’s approach to navigating a world shaped and influenced by coronavirus.
The new normal: 3 critical phases for retail
As retailers move forward, there are three crucial stages to consider:
During this phase, retailers must demystify the customer experience, whether it's for curbside pick-ups or as stores begin to open. By effectively and efficiently explaining what one can expect, retailers can ease anxiety and put customers in a positive mindset.
Key moments to have a plan of action:
- Alerts for when a product is ready for pick-up,
- Updates when in a queue line to enter a store,
- Clear information on how to return an item in-store or online,
- Visibility to what is available in-store, what delivery times look like, and what’s faster to get online.
Be sure to layer on brand voice when creating your messaging plan, and to clearly identify who you are. Openings need to be safe, but they also need to be human. Shopping is an emotional experience, and customers will gravitate to brands that deliver that regardless where it happens.
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Agile businesses rely on digitalization, and in today’s new normal, customers across ALL demographics have adopted various forms of technology—from contactless payments to streaming video to augmented reality.
Key areas to invest in:
- Cloud at scale and communication migration
- Cloud is the key enabling technology for telecommuting, teleworking, tele-heath applications and even clienteling.
- Contextualization via software agility and predictive analytics
- While AI must be adapted to new norms, it will be key in determining how to best serve each individual customer.
- Robust plan for digital engagement
- Whether using WhatsApp, SMS, chat, email and/or video, you must know when to use what, and when. Be cognizant of when it's a one-to-many or a one-one interaction. It creates a human approach to engagement, igniting the senses on a deeper level.
Clienteling and creating in-store experiences, digitally
Successful retailers must empower their teams to establish long-term relationships with customers based on data about their preferences, behaviors, and past purchases. It’s about creating fans, not just customers for your brand. The right approach will impact shopping frequency, lift in average transaction value, and other key metrics.
Key areas of focus:
- Be able to seamlessly connect online and offline interactions and have a holistic snapshot of customers.
- Empower your staff with information that allows them to respond with anticipatory support and context.
- Have a unified view of the customer, in which analytics plays a critical role in enabling data-based decision making.
- Focus on adding a layer of personal touch to the shopping experience with your clienteling strategy.
This phased approach not only supports the current environment where countries are starting to open up again; it also supports customer expectations going forward, whatever our new normal may be.
With an accelerated adoption of e-commerce and mobily enabled transactions, brands and retailers must be better positioned to transition seamlessly between online and offline channels. It is a time to listen, learn, and iterate to ensure we are best positioned to be in service customers and understand their changing behaviors.