The world has been upended with the coronavirus—and that includes retail. Here are some examples of how retailers are adapting their businesses to survive—and thrive—during the pandemic.

Many consumers aren’t booking reservations at their favorite cozy Italian restaurant for their anniversary this year. And, many also aren’t hitting up stores for Saturday afternoon browsing. They are eating in and shopping online to avoid getting sick or spreading COVID-19. That’s forcing businesses to adapt.

Drinks.com, which provides wine ecommerce technology platforms for retailers, such as Boxed Wholesale (No. 268 in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000), The Kroger Co. (No. 13) and Thrive Market (No. 125) and is the parent company for online retailers Wine Insiders and Martha Stewart Wine Co., is helping restaurants and chefs stay connected to fans, while driving sales on its own ecommerce sites.

Drinks.com worked with food and hospitality personalities to create new wine collections and content for its ecommerce sites during the pandemic. The retailer signed deals with Iron Chef celebrity Geoffrey Zakarian and Michelin-starred Chef Ludo Lefebvre to create curated wine collections for Wine Insiders—including companion food pairings, recipes and video content, CEO Zac Brandenberg says.

“While these programs are still in their infancy and take time to grow, we have received strong initial interest,” Brandenberg says. For example, more than 630 attendees participated in a virtual wine tasting with Martha Stewart to promote the latest wines in her collection, yielding orders for more than 5,000 bottles, he says.

Ecommerce platform provider Salesforce.com Inc. says several of its retailer clients quickly pivoted during the pandemic, adding new omnichannel features to their ecommerce platforms.

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Retailer Build-a-Bear, which is known for its stores where children can create their own stuffed animals, worked with Salesforce to reconfigure its ecommerce platform and operations during the pandemic to offer ship-from-store and buy online pick up in store, the vendor says. This enabled the retailer to use its more than 200 stores as distribution centers, with store employees fulfilling online orders. It also sped up delivery times as Build-a-Bear shipped products from stores closest to the shopper. These changes helped the merchant increase online sales by nearly 300% in Q2 2020 compared with a year earlier.

As salons closed, at-home hair coloring quickly gained popularity. And that led to online sales to surge during the pandemic at Salesforce customer Sally Beauty Holdings (No. 593). To keep up with demand, the merchant added several omnichannel features between May and October 2020, including curbside pickup, ship-from-store, BOPIS and same-day delivery for its Cosmo Prof division of professional salon products. The changes helped the retail generate a 278% increase in ecommerce sales in Q3 2020 compared with a year earlier.

26% of consumers had used curbside pickup for non-grocery items during the pandemic as of August, according to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,141 consumers.

That survey also finds:

  • 24% had used curbside multiple times since COVID-19.
  • 20% planned to use curbside more for the remainder of 2020.
  • 17% tried curbside for the first time.
  • 14% said they plan to use curbside after shopping in stores returns to normal.

However, retailers could improve the curbside experience. For example, 32% of shoppers had a positive curbside experience, according to the survey.

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Be it BOPIS, curbside or pure web shopping, the shift to ecommerce during the pandemic was especially apparent during the 2020 holiday season. Digital sales for November through December rose 45.2%—more than triple the year-over-year rate for the 2019 season, according to Digital Commerce 360 estimates. More than $1 in $4 spent on retail purchases for the period came from online orders—an astounding jump in digital penetration.

Salesforce, which offers commerce, customer service and marketing cloud-based software for retailers, says that trickled down into customer service inquiries. Salesforce clients yielded 2.83 million customer service chatbot sessions during Cyber Week 2020 (Nov. 24-Nov. 30), up more than 400% compared with 2019. Chatbot session volume peaked on Cyber Monday at 560,000 sessions in a single day for Salesforce customers. Seven Top 1000 retailers use Salesforce for customer service, 66 for their ecommerce platform and 40 use the vendor’s marketing automation platform.

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