Are retailers nimble enough to give consumers what they need and want right now?
Emily Eddy, Senior Design Strategist, PK
Connection is everything in moments of crisis. The question on everyone’s mind is, how can retailers navigate the new normal, where the ability to connect is more reliant on digital technology than ever? The first task is to look to consumers and ask, how can we address their most pressing needs? In considering how to help retailers respond to the current crisis, four major themes in consumer sentiment emerge:
Consumers are feeling uncertain, stressed, and anxious. Their focus is on meeting immediate needs rather than wants. In a time of scarcity, we must help consumers identify what to buy, when to buy and exactly how much to buy. Post-pandemic, the importance will further increase because, although consumers may buy less or more, they’ll need products that fit their current situations.
No matter the activity, home is where it happens. Working, learning, exercising, all at home, have implications for products and experiences. This paradigm shift means a huge increase in digital engagement. Consider space/time limitations and multi-generational involvement. Think expanded online product offerings, higher-touch digital service and delivery models (e.g., subscription, curbside BOPIS). Pivoting from in-person to digital could mean utilizing new tech like AR/VR for virtual exploration or live streams for real-time engagement in the safety of home.
Staying safer, longer. Consumers are looking to decrease close physical interaction. Staying at home may be a short-term reality, but the need for physical distance will persist. Winning engagements must be digital or “crowd-lessly” physical. Consider frictionless touchpoints to allow customers to opt-out of physical interactions and opt into in-store digital assistance, touchless payment or cashierless checkout. Look to conversational commerce and/or social communication across platforms to sustain engagement during lulls in consumer spending.
Empathy and community engagement. “Look for the helpers” and “be a part of the solution” are the new mantras. How can your products and services offer solutions to immediate problems? Explore product diversification and empathetic adaptive strategies (apparel brands producing masks; distilleries producing hand sanitizer). This may require operational changes: altered hours (or special hours for the elderly or immuno-compromised) or discounting items off-schedule (allowing broad access to what’s most needed). Be prepared for and open to rapid change.
All companies, especially now, must be nimble. Have you thought about how your business can deconstruct large format, crowd-oriented experiences in order to pop back up in smaller, more relevant ways?
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How successful do you think most retailers have been in becoming nimbler in responding to consumers in relevant ways since the outbreak of the coronavirus? What are your favorite examples? Would you add anything to the major themes driving consumer sentiment covered in the article?