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May 11

COVID 19: 9 Strategies for Survival of the Retail Apocalypse

Like it or not, the Coronavirus pandemic has caused a massive and rapid evolution of the retail industry and not just in the short term. Retail, as we knew it pre-COVID-19, is essentially gone as high-contact consumer-shopping experiences will just no longer have the appeal they once enjoyed. To those in the retail space, it must feel like a veritable apocalypse.

R E S U L T S

901 Against Covid-19: Memphis Business Community Survey

How do we get back to the business of growth? See what survey respondents had to say.

So, how is the retail category expected to innovate in order to ensure its very survival? Here are 9 predictions about how this category will evolve more in the next year than perhaps it has in the last decade. Whether your company sells direct to consumer or you sell to retail businesses, you’ll want to adapt your strategies for these long-term trends that are no doubt here to stay.

Widespread Contactless Payments: Consumers are no longer interested in touching a credit card machine or touch screen, or exchanging cash with a retail checker. That’s why retailers are quickly rolling out contactless payment systems. Walmart, for example, now allows customers to pay via Walmart Pay on the Walmart app by simply scanning, with your phone, a QR code that will be presented on-screen at checkout in order to initiate payment.

Elimination of the Checkout: Touching credit-card machines is tough enough for consumers to stomach at the moment, but interacting with store employees is even more concerning for many due to concerns over community spread. Plexiglass is certainly an option many retailers are leveraging, but there’s a simpler, more welcoming and high-tech solution that is starting to grow in adoption — check-out-free retail. Sam’s Club in Texas is offering Sam’s Club Now — an app that allows you to scan your own grocery items as you’re placing them in your cart and paying directly in the app. Plus, the app will even allow you to create a virtual shopping list and will automatically “cross off” items as you scan them. They have eliminated any need to stop, wait in a line, and check out. There’s also the Amazon Go (high-tech convenience store) experience where to enter the store, you simply scan a barcode with your phone at a kiosk similar to what you’d use when scanning your boarding pass at the gate of an airport. Then just fill your cart with what you want and walk out. The app calculates the value of what you leave with and charges your card accordingly.

Rapid Acceleration of E-Commerce in New Verticals: U.S. retailers’ online revenue growth from January to mid-April of 2020 was up a whopping 68 percent compared to the same period last year, according to CCinsights.org which provides retailers with retail data from more than one billion consumers and 2,500 brands. What’s more, online-shopping conversion rates are up notably — at Cyber Monday levels in many categories — due to increased shopper urgency. Many consumers intend for online shopping to replace in-store shopping until a vaccine is available; and by then, a large percentage of those consumers will have formed such an online shopping habit, they won’t want to go back. This wildly increased consumer demand for e-commerce functionality comes with a heightened expectation around the bar for that online-shopping experience. Clunky e-commerce functionality will cause consumers to quickly shift to a brand with a better experience. Also, consumers want to see innovative functionality that will allow them to try on or visualize a new product on their body (e.g., glasses or fashion) or in their home (e.g., furniture). For example, online eyewear retailer, Warby Parker, allows consumers to try on their glasses virtually from the brand’s website. Let’s look at the grocery industry specifically. Approximately one third of U.S. consumers purchased groceries online according to a mid-2019 study conducted by retail-research organization, Coresight. The International Food Information Council conducted a consumer story in early April of this year. That study shows 60% of shoppers intend to shop online more frequently going forward. The previous holdouts to online grocery shopping are likely seeing that it’s not as bad as they expected; plus, now that they’re setup for grocery delivery or curbside pickup, many will continue the trend even once COVID-19 concerns begin to subside.

Sustained Emphasis on Pickup ServicesConsumer desire for curb-side or in-store pickup of food, groceries and other products purchased online will continue long after the worst of COVID-19 is behind us. The idea of a “store” will evolve from a place to shop to a place where you pick up something quickly without having to shop in-store or wait for an e-commerce delivery. Kroger and Starbucks, for example, have announced their first stores dedicated exclusively to pick up of e-commerce orders. Walgreens also announced that it is converting its more than 7,000 drive-throughs — previously for pharmacy orders only — to allow for grocery pickup as well.

So how does this transfer to local retailers? Your focal point should no longer be primarily centered around creating an engaging in-store experience but an engaging online experience, and your number-one job is to help your consumers purchase your products as quickly and simply as possible. Right now — that’s through e-commerce with delivery and curbside pickup options. This will cause many retailers to rethink their locations, as retail will no longer be the destination it once was. Look instead to smaller pickup locations (or even pickup lockers) that are close to where your targeted customers live and work.

New Practices for Touching MerchandiseKnowing that COVID-19 can remain on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days, up to 24 hours on cardboard and who knows how long on clothing, consumers will no doubt think about in-store shopping with a whole new set of cautions. Retailers need to be ready. Many consumers will be hesitant to pick up merchandise like they once did or even touch the handle of a cart unless the store effectively communicates stringent disinfecting practices such as holding clothes left in fitting rooms for a safe length of time before placing them back on racks or requiring use of hand sanitizer before trying on jewelry or watches.

Preference for Open-Air Shopping Centers: Shoppers will begin shying away from traditional enclosed malls in favor of open-air shopping centers, a trend that isn’t new but now even further exacerbated by consumer need for personal space.

Controlled Foot-TrafficConsumers now have an expectation that capacity will be limited in retail stores and restaurants, limiting profitability per square foot unless sufficiently supplemented with e-commerce delivery and/or curbside or in-store pickup. You’ll see more retailers avoiding the high rent and shifting to either a smaller footprint supplemented with e-commerce, pickup stores only, or e-commerce only. Plus, retailers have an opportunity to create a sense of structure and calm as consumers return to stores and restaurants under social-distancing guidelines. For example, if you have someone at the front door barking orders to people as they enter the store, you are inviting a competitor to steal market share. Consumers are not trained to tune in to floor graphics. It’s going to take a variety of visual and verbal cues in order to guide consumers through a safe and enjoyable retail experience in this new reality.

Intentional Focus on Shopping LocalShop-local campaigns have been commonplace over the last several years, but while most consumers would tell you they support the idea of shopping local, few do so consistently due to the convenience of national brands. The pandemic, however, is shining a light on how quickly we could lose beloved local retailers if we don’t support them regularly, and I, for one, have been bending over backwards to spend my dollars locally. In order for local businesses to sustain this consumer loyalty, they must notably enhance their online shopping capabilities. Today, consumers are understanding of a poor online experience, but that tolerance won’t last if local retailers don’t get serious about their online “storefront” immediately.

Loyalty Driven by Safety and SecurityTimes of crisis allow better brands to form long-term and often, unshakable consumer loyalty. Consumers are paying attention to how their favorite brands are handling the crisis. Are they taking care of their employees, their customers, and the community? Are they adapting their product and service strategies to the rapidly evolving needs of the market? Are they part of the conversation or remaining fairly silent, as they have clearly pressed pause on their marketing and communications investment? Brands that lean in, are present, nimble, decisive and quick to act in a crisis will win when the crisis is past us.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing the most effective strategies, like these, that forward-thinking companies are executing during this crisis. My hope is that you’ll find additional inspiration to advance your vision forward with a full-on strategic offensive, and that includes on the sales and marketing front.

Great companies leverage cash reserves during times of economic uncertainty in order to cash in on opportunities that competitors are creating by pressing pause on their sales and marketing efforts and stepping out of the market. They’re able to do so at a much lower cost relative to strong economic times.

Advertising should not be viewed as a drain on profits but instead as a driver of them. Companies that have the fortitude to swim against the current, when everyone else is getting out of the water, will see a tremendous payoff as the market recovers. No, the payoff may not be immediate, but it will be exponential in time if done right.

Check out COVID-19: Swim Against the Current; Cash In on Competitor Hesitation for more about how history proves that companies that play offense versus defense in periods of economic uncertainty grow far more than their passive counterparts.

We are all in this together. If you would like to partner, please give us a call. RedRover is deeply committed to Memphis and any business working to support our great city. Let us know if you need help getting the word out about your business. Knowing what to do next can be hard. There are resources and partners all across our city ready to help. RedRover is here for all Memphians working to save their businesses.

Lori Turner-Wilson is founder and CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. A fast-growing agency of seasoned professionals, RedRover is the only Memphis agency to integrate sales training with marketing strategic planning and execution. RedRover has a uniquely intense focus on achieving measurable results for its clientele, as the only Memphis area agency to offer its clients a results guarantee. The agency’s diverse client roster represents nearly every industry vertical in greater Memphis.

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