With the right approach, retailers can generate a plan that positions them for resiliency, flexibility and agility in the face of any disruptions or change.

Lisa Kalscheur, change

Lisa Kalscheur, chief marketing officer at Kibo Commerce

Bracing for more change on the horizon while working to make the best of current circumstances is all-consuming and stressful. Still, retailers and brands that focus only on their internal goals, ignoring the real-time needs of customers, could see long-term repercussions.

Research conducted by Twitter demonstrates 77% of consumers say that, in the face of a global health emergency, they feel more positive about brands making an effort to support the community. 80% expressed a desire to know how brands are supporting employees; 89% say brands should communicate reliable information; 70% still expect brands to provide prompt customer service. Brands must balance these consumer expectations with their need to stay afloat, but they can do so thoughtfully and transparently.  

With the right approach, retailers can generate a plan that positions them for flexibility and agility, preparing them for any disruption or change that arises. One can group tasks for building resiliency into three big ideas: marketing, ecommerce and fulfillment.  

1. Marketing efforts that prioritize personalization and scenario planning

When it comes to COVID-19 sensitive marketing, Gartner analyst Augie Ray recommends retailers strategically think through sudden and potential shifts in shopping behavior and consumer needs. As retailers “scenario plan,” they must also listen intently for changes in customer sentiment. 

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Just as every city and state in the U.S. is in a different situation in the current health climate, retailers have to appreciate that every customer and household is unique. Many consumers are facing financial strain and would prefer to know about new items on clearance rather than a hot new pricey item. Those in locked-down urban cores aren’t going to be buying “date night” outfits or workplace attire in the next few weeks. Parents are likely to be buying more books or games to keep families entertained. Understanding these dynamics, both from a price and product need perspective, is incredibly important during times of uncertainty.   

Personalization allows brands to address each need by segment or individual, making offers incredibly relevant and timely. Recent research shows that brands that offer “personalized commerce” are more likely to achieve the highest levels of ROI. Furthermore, companies that leverage a personalization strategy across all elements of the customer lifecycle not only see higher ROI (300% or more), they are in the best position to pivot their business to meet changing customer behaviors quickly.

2. Ecommerce strategies that include time-sensitive pricing and promotional messaging

Of Digital Commerce 360’s Top 100, 75% of retailers have clear and reassuring messaging on their websites that speak to their pandemic responses. But as COVID-19’s impact continues to evolve–or any future disruption needs communicating, for that matter ­– retailers must go deeper than a general corporate note to shoppers. After all, they start to sound the same after a while. Retailers must prioritize reliable and helpful messaging on their ecommerce sites and must review every customer touchpoint for a possible new approach to messaging. 

For example, retailers can use localized messaging to bridge the digital-physical retail divide, updating consumers on store openings or adjusted hours, as Francesca’s has done with a “Boutique Re-openings” link prominent on the homepage. Messaging can also incorporate real-time inventory availability in nearby locations, and for those with out-of-stock issues, transparency is paramount. Brands should be upfront about product availability or shipping delays. 

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And while a disruptive event of this magnitude will bulldoze right over a retailer’s quarterly sales goals, now is not the time to take advantage of increased digital activity without consideration for customer sensitivities. Longstanding techniques in the ecommerce space have included the use of scarcity messaging, but these can come off as insensitive, even tone-deaf, in times of real urgency and need. Even promotional activity should be communicated in a time-sensitive yet thoughtful way, again emphasizing the importance of personalization.  

3. Fulfillment and delivery methods that emphasize a low amount of touchpoints

One of the hardest-hit areas of the supply chain during this time continues to be the last mile, as noted by BCG, forcing retailers to evaluate the flexibility of their entire fulfillment network. Even if doors have remained open during shelter-in-place mandates, retailers have been pushed to embrace new forms of fulfillment, accommodating offerings like curbside or contactless in-store pickup.

Ecommerce has increased as more people stay home, but this has led to lengthened shipping timelines. The Container Store, for example, promotes contactless curbside pickup as the most expedient way to receive ordered items, because shipment delays could be up to two weeks long. On every product page, fulfillment options are clearly communicated with red and green check marks, showing a product’s local availability for fulfillment at a store.  

To weather the current storm and adjust for transformed shopping habits in the months to come, brands should track adoption rates across different fulfillment options, switching quickly to the most ideal method as situations change. The faster retailers can pivot and drive more orders to other channels, the less pain they’ll feel from a single change to fulfillment. 

As we’ve seen magnified in early 2020, unpredictability is unavoidable and can derail even the best-laid plans. If not quickly responded to, disruptive change can lead to a catastrophic impact on business vitality. Still, the most successful organizations will be those that eagerly work to make a plan, and then put it into action. In whichever ways retailers prioritize marketing, ecommerce, or fulfillment initiatives, on the other side of disruption, consumers will remember the brands that added real value to their lives while meeting their personal retail expectations. 

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Kibo Commerce provides ecommerce platform,  fulfillment, mobile commerce and order management software and services.

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