Retail reporting

Reopening retailers must remain flexible and agile in a COVID-dominated world—but these three principles always apply

  • alex bravo
    Alex Bravo
  • Aug 03, 2020

How retailers can navigate COVID-19 using this three-phased approach to closing down and reopeing shop. 

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Retail has been at the forefront of trying to interpret what a post-COVID world could look like.

Retailers have been planning how to restart physical operations as the pandemic has worn on, but now are also navigating the need to remain flexible, and revise their initial reopening plans, given the possibility of having to revert to more restrictive measures as infection rates change.

They are refining their priorities as such, looking to make more strategic use of their stories while prioritizing ecommerce for a COVID-impacted consumer base.

A survey of retail executives found most of them expect store traffic to return to pre-crisis levels, but not for at least several months after stores reopen—and, despite that expectation, most retail leaders are also realizing that reopening is not predictable, and they must remain flexible at least until a vaccine is readily distributable, and perhaps longer.

In order to succeed, retailers must follow a three-phased approach that looks ahead into the long-lasting effects of this pandemic, the perception of the shopping experience moving forward, and builds for consistency and ease in transitioning between online and offline channels.

Provide a safe and welcoming environment for customers and employees

As we move into the post-pandemic recovery, one of the biggest challenges for retailers will be to provide a safe environment for customers and employees alike.

This new normal, paired with increased emphasis on the online experience, may not be easy for all consumers to adapt to; customers may be challenged with understanding these new ways of purchasing and receiving orders. Retailers must train their teams to deliver tactful and proactive engagement to customers to navigate the uncertainty and change.

The question is: how can you demystify the shopping experience for your customer?

Creating a comfortable experience for customers

Above all else, communication is key: retailers big and small must focus on communicating clearly, regularly, and in a trust-building way to share everything from risk mitigation plans, to timely alerts, to changes to hours or other operational information, and more.

For example, when it comes to curbside pickups, communicate how your customers should prepare for pickups via the channels they prefer. Upon their arrival, alert and notify your teams via SMS or automated phone calls.

For in-store purchases, enable real-time alerts on store hours and live wait times for customers who are in a queue to enter your store.

Apple has made the buy-online-pickup-in-store, or BOPiS, experience practically seamless. When you purchase an Apple product online, you can choose to pick it up at a nearby brick-and-mortar location. Customers choose a window for their arrival, are checked in by an employee waiting at the entrance, and are shown to a waiting area—appropriately socially distanced, of course—to receive their purchase within minutes. The store sends a confirmation text with the customer’s pick-up time and enables two-way communication for questions or concerns. The process is clear, seamless, and easy, end-to-end.

Context is also critical. When teams have a clear idea of customer profiles, they are better equipped to handle the situation when a customer is experiencing unexpected issues with their orders, fulfillment, or delivery.

Ensure that the daily health check-ins for employees on duty are easily accessible via self-service experiences over voice messaging or chat. Implement contactless payments along with identity verification and authentication systems for the safety of everybody involved.

Digitalization of business models

There has never been a more critical time to accelerate digitalization, and companies are increasingly doing just that—Twilio’s own research shows that on average, companies have accelerated their digital roadmaps by six years due to COVID-19.

Learn more about how retailers responded to Twilio’S digital engagement survey, and how leading companies are tackling the challenges of COVID-19.

Digitization isn’t just about the customer experience, though: companies with on-premise contact centers experienced unexpected challenges when teams suddenly had to work from home, distribute information from a centralized CRM, or grant access to the different applications.

The primary goal of digitalization should be to improve efficiency and break down the silos in operations to be able to scale your communication strategy. Here’s how to do it.

Breaking down silos and scaling digital communication

Moving to the cloud makes retailers location-independent and agile. Cloud, in combination with predictive analytics, enables responsiveness at scale.

Cloud-based contact centers also make customer-facing communication better and more seamless. As conversations and interactions become more digital, teams must strive to provide personalized, contextualized engagement over and over again. This can be done with a unified view of the customer— historical preferences and context—across a single pane of glass, so that the same conversation can move from one channel to the other seamlessly.

Retailers must not focus on becoming digital-only, rather about becoming digital-first.

Read about how leading support agency Moneypenny went from on-prem to cloud to enable end-to-end communications management and endless customization.

Recreate in-store experiences online

The underlying value in recreating in-store experiences online is to build deeper connections with customers despite physical distancing or quarantine, by leveraging technologies and channels to deliver exemplary customer engagement.

Retailers must use secure and reliable channels to ensure both team members and customers feel safe throughout the interaction. With most customers now shopping from mobile devices, you must deliver not only on security but integrating the experiences of your brand.

Nearly 70 percent of the people surveyed here said being able to message a brand helps them feel more confident about the brand. Retailers can use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SMS, voice, email, and video to not only inspire trust but also to add a layer of a personal touch to the shopping experience.

Consider developing alternative engagement models, such as video consultations, and integrate augmented reality solutions to replicate the physical in-store experience in a digital environment.

How Galeries Lafayette is preparing for the post-pandemic reopening

Galeries Lafayette is a French retailer that operates 65 department stores in France and all over the world. Long before the pandemic struct, they developed a clienteling solution that puts the human aspect at the center of the communication experience.

Ramona Tudosescu, the Head of Innovation and Store Omnichannel for Galeries Lafayette, joined other experts for a live webinar recently, about preparing for reopening in the post-COVID landscape. She said having a “head start,” so to speak, on digital engagement and transformation helped immensely when COVID-19 struck.

“We were actually lucky to have the solution before the confinement happened because our objective from the beginning [as we built a new flagship store] is to build intimacy at scale,” she said. “Delivering those kinds of personalized experiences not just for 40 to 50 clients but for 40,000 clients who are all accessing that level of human interaction with the store at distance.”

Like most retailers, though, Galeries Lafayette is facing occupancy and physical restrictions as stores reopen. Galeries Lafayette plans to deal with this with a two-pronged approach to client journeys, Tudosecu said.

The first strategy is to support the mode and method of shopping that each individual customer prefers, rather than trying to force all customers into one or two specific flows, she said.

The second strategy, focused on customers who prefer a live shopping experience, is to use communications to prepare both the customer and the staff on what to expect the moment when the customer will be in the store.

“The clienteling tool that we developed with the help of the Twilio communication APIs allowed our staff to have functionalities such as shared client profiles, to be able to work in a team, to be able to switch from one channel to the other according to what the client wants, but also where the client is from,” she said. “We did have all that strategy already going on, so when COVID happened, we actually went back to the basics of retail, which is contacting all clients, reassuring them, and offering them appointments.”

Talking about what the future holds in terms of applying innovations, Ramona said that Galeries Lafayette is focused on blending brick and mortar and e-commerce to create an omnichannel experience for its customers. They are also looking at technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to enhance the remote shopping experience.

The future in retail is now

At some point after the crisis, people will start to gravitate towards physical stores. The sameness of shopping from home and lack of social interaction will be a catalyst in this shift.

Retailers who start future-facing planning now can inspire consumer confidence and rebound stronger than ever in a post-COVID retail landscape.

Twilio for retail and e-commerce

Learn more about how to prepare and execute your strategy in this free, on-demand webinar with leaders from Galeries Lafayette, Burberry, and more.

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alex bravo

Alex Bravo

Alex Bravo is a Sr. PMM for Retail at Twilio. With a background in business strategy consulting and supply chain, Alex helps define how Twilio enables brands to turn engagement challenges into opportunities to build delightful customer experiences. She is also an instructor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the NGO Science Clubs International and was a guest lecturer through the department of economics at her alma mater, Harvard University.