How smart retailers are changing to meet the demands of consumers in the challenging environment brought by the COVID-19 crisis.

Kat Berman, head of sales for North America, Selligent

“Hoarding'” may be the term most associated with COVID-19 consumerism, but beyond toilet paper and soap, consumer buying behavior has changed significantly in recent months—and brands are responding. Aside from increasing inventory for items deemed “essential” to meet skyrocketing demand, brands are leaning into digital marketing to help and inform, maintain relationships, and build trust.

Here are a few tactics from agile retailers that have pivoted their marketing efforts—and in some cases, products—in response to the challenging environment brought by this health crisis:

Be a channel for help 

We’ve seen time and time again brands shifting their energy to focus on delivering real needs, putting profit on the back burner for some time. This shift has won them praise for looking at their business and manufacturing models and seeing how they can help on a larger scale. The trend toward addressing real needs often came from unexpected places, like luxury design house LVMH (parent company of Louis Vuitton, which has been using production lines to make hand sanitizer instead of perfume and cosmetics. Another example is the vacuum brand Dyson, which shifted to manufacturing to make ventilators.

While not all brands can give back in such a way, there are creative ways they are contributing. For example, several are following the TOMS shoes “buy-one-give-one” model, allowing customers to insert the “do-good” into their shopping. Other brands are dedicating a portion of their revenue to help those in need via organizations like food banks and children’s charities. For example, a coalition of 26 direct-to-consumer brands came together to form Brands X Better, donates 2% of gross sales, or 10% of proceeds, to a charity helping with the pandemic during April—and ensuring that employees and suppliers of their brands can keep working.

By involving consumers and giving them a direct channel to give back, brands are still delivering on their promise to customers while giving them ways to use their purchasing for the greater good. Additionally, building trust and goodwill always pay off in the long-term.

Focus on affordability

With most people sheltering in place at home, many are escaping online to find great deals for the things they want and need. It’s no secret that consumers are becoming very budget-conscious in recent months. The unfortunate reality is, retailers have been hit hard, with many closing their brick-and-mortar operations temporarily as they are deemed ‘non-essential.’ In response, retailers have put a lot of energy into bolstering digital marketing and ecommerce, offering big sales, free shipping, and higher-than-usual reward points.

For example, American Airlines is offering customers better deals on purchasing frequent-flier miles. Skincare brand L’Occitane made its 20% off Friends and Family sale widely available. Items that seemingly never go on sale, such as Apple AirPods, are being marked down.

If your business model allows, consider looking at ways you can provide some savings to your customers. Retail sales will undoubtedly take a hit in the coming months, but creativity may help you stay afloat.

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Educate and inform

When customers make a purchase, likely online, ensure your marketing messages align with the current concerns of safe handling and shipping. Companies are sharing too few guidelines about how consumers should handle packages once they’ve hit their doorsteps. Consumers often don’t know the details about how products safely travel from a warehouse and then go from a plane, a truck and consumers’ doors.  Amazon has received recent backlash about safety in warehouses and the potential implications of who’s handling their orders have consumers worried.

If you take extra precautions to protect your workers and your customers, communicate that.

Provide tips on how to receive and handle deliveries safely and keep customers informed of any possible changes that affect their specific orders or address any broader concerns. Communicating safety tips early and often will help protect not only your brand but also your customers. For example, delivery services like DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart are promoting contact-less options and sharing steps taken to protect their workers, including delivery personnel, drivers and informing customers along the way.

The current environment isn’t an easy one to try to maintain (or grow) a retail business, but don’t let that stop your efforts to meet and exceed customer needs. Be proactive, be open and transparent, give customers a way to provide feedback, and remember the value of delivering a worry-free experience. The brand equity you build from doing the right thing will far outlast the challenging times we face today.

Selligent provides a business-to-consumer marketing automation platform.

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