It should come as no surprise that there have been both winners and losers during COVID-19. While many businesses were forced into temporary closures, the pandemic simultaneously triggered a huge rise in online order volume. Brands that have swiftly responded by prioritising their ecommerce business, adapting their offering entirely to include an ecommerce platform have generally weathered the storm better.
Alongside these changes, the current climate has also forced a dramatic shift in shopping and spending habits, and impacted the lives of those in the retail workforce. While we still have a long road ahead of us, we’re seeing conversations turn to reopening storefronts, leaving merchants to determine when and how they can encourage in-store spending.
Meghan Stabler, VP of Global Product Marketing at BigCommerce, explains how retailers can revive bricks-and-mortar sales once the lockdown has been lifted.
Reviving sales after the lockdown
As difficult as it may be to imagine right now, there will soon come a time when bricks-and-mortar stores will be able to reopen their doors. In order to capitalise on the return of shoppers to the streets, retailers need to start thinking about how best to encourage consumers back into their physical estate. There is an urgent need to recoup sales lost during the lockdown, shift excess stock, and fight to ensure conventional store estates remain viable in the future.
John Lewis, for example, has created a three-stage plan for reopening its store portfolio once the lockdown is lifted, involving three to six weeks of staggered openings, with different sized stores opening at different times. Phase one includes around 20 stores with larger car parks, allowing staff to drive to work, and safely maintain social distancing.
The ability to provide safe shopping environments will be a critically important element in encouraging shoppers back into stores. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has also urged retailers to get ready for reopening by thinking about how to comply with virus control regulations. It has worked with trade union Usdaw to provide guidance on social distancing for non-food retail stores. Suggested measures include separate entry and exit points, analysing store layouts to ensure two metre social distancing, and controlling the number of visitors allowed in the store at one time.
There are a number of examples of retailers that are already thinking ahead. Spanish retailer Mango says it has adopted “extraordinary” hygiene measures to make shoppers feel safe and comfortable, including limiting the number of people in store, continuous cleaning, limited opening hours, and supplying employees and customers with personal protection equipment.
Giving customers a reason to return to stores
As ecommerce giants such as Amazon and eBay continue to dominate our online shopping habits, physical stores are increasingly faced with the growing challenge of ensuring relevance and holding consumers’ attention. Retailers are going to need to provide shoppers with more reasons than ever to visit shops, and – crucially in the immediate term – give them the confidence to be in stores by making social safety a priority. This can be difficult given consumers have already changed their shopping habits as a result of the pandemic, and are now even more accustomed to ordering items online. The goal moving forward for all retailers will be about ensuring an offering which connects online and offline experiences.
Retailers should also re-assess their retargeting strategies. While shoppers often begin their journey online, many are still choosing to shop in-store with brands they resonate with. Shoppers often browse a retailer’s site but choose not to make a purchase. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a lost cause. Rather than attempting to divert the customer back to the online site, retailers could choose to offer an in-store discount code to encourage them to shop in a physical store instead. With the right retargeting strategies, merchants can remind customers of what they were looking at on their site with a follow up email, bringing the brand back to the fore.
Moving from ‘clicks’ back to ‘bricks’
While self-isolation is limiting consumers’ ability to get to the high street, ecommerce offers a larger opportunity than ever for companies to service their customers’ needs, while simultaneously protecting their operations and employees. However, many retailers with an emphasis on physical stores cannot simply rely on online sales to pay staff their salaries and building rent. With many bricks-and-mortar stores temporarily closed under government orders, sales and profit margins have been heavily impacted.
For many retailers, connecting both their online and offline channels has been essential to continuing operations. Several have turned to alternative approaches to cope with the surge in online orders, and to keep operations up and running in their physical stores. DIY retailers such as B&Q have trialed this through ‘contact-free click & collect’ services, which involves set-ups in store carparks where items are brought directly to the customer’s vehicle. This ensures customers can collect items in a safe and secure way, avoiding any unnecessary contact. It also offers a personalised shopping experience to customers – and gives retailers the opportunity to avoid redundancies for in-store staff.
Even after the lockdown is lifted, it will likely be many months before free contact will again be an option. Click & collect is likely to remain a popular delivery choice, which is a win-win situation for many retailers. With customers treating physical storefronts as online fulfillment centers, the merchant’s staff are still needed and in-store inventory will be used first. This keeps stores open and ensures employees keep their jobs.
Investing in online channels
As COVID-19 continues to severely impact the retail sector, Global Data estimates that the financial cost of the virus is in the region of £12.6 billion. Bricks-and-mortar retailers without an ecommerce front, such as Primark, have been hit hardest by store closures. The unprecedented change to the market – and the world as a whole – has shown that now, more than ever, retail offerings which offer both a physical and digital experience are the best set for success.
The best way for retailers to ensure future success is a model that integrates both online and in-store customer experiences. As they look to the future, retailers need to understand the role physical stores play at all stages of the buying process, from inspiration, to collection, to returns, as well as the advantages of a strong online presence. Those that can successfully do both will reap the benefits – while those that can’t are almost certain to be left in the dust.
Contributer: Meghan Stabler, VP of Global Product Marketing at BigCommerce,