The coronavirus pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges for retailers in modern history. Retail sales were down by a record 5.1% in March, with the outlook for the next few months looking equally as bleak as lockdown continues. Yet, whilst the situation is unprecedented – with sales quite naturally falling across the board – consumers still need to shop for goods, despite being at home. Likewise, once restrictions on movement have been lifted, it’s likely the economy will begin to pick up as consumers return to a new normal. As such, it’s critical for retail brands to continue with trying to maintain customer loyalty as much as possible during this time.
A recent survey conducted by PwC suggests that once post-lockdown spending resumes, consumers intend to reward those that they perceive as being more responsible retailers. According to the study, consumers will be looking to shop with those who looked after their staff and will be keen to support local, smaller or independent retailers that have survived the crisis. These are interesting insights that reveal a lot about the types of experiences customers are wanting to have with retail brands both now and in the future. For many consumers, the key to enduring through the current situation and staying positive is to remain connected and in good communication with the outside world. More than ever before, we’re calling, texting, video-calling and using social media to stay in touch. We’re also engaging in activities en-masse; standing in doorways or on balconies clapping together and drawing rainbows to put into our windows. These same principles of togetherness, consistent communication and simply just being there for one another is also true for retailers during this time.
Over the course of lockdown so far, we will all have received countless emails from brands, but there will be some that stand out within the inbox more than others. The way brands are communicating throughout the pandemic will almost certainly be remembered and it’s important to bear this in mind when crafting all your communications with customers.
I recently received an email from a skincare clinic that was a great example of thoughtful communication during this time. Acknowledging that customers will be unable to visit the clinic, the email was well crafted to encourage engagement and inspire a positive experience regardless of not being able to visit a physical location. Within the content, the brand had provided a useful video tutorial for night-time skincare routines, links to some excellent free online workouts to take part in, a link to an online course to keep the mind active; tips/updates on some of the activities the team had been taking part in to keep themselves feeling upbeat, and finally a chance to ask the brand questions about looking after the skin, with these to be answered in regular blogs. The tone of the email was just right for what it needed it achieve; it was empathetic to the reality of customers new needs during this time. Right now, customers of these clinics are more concerned with their health and mental wellbeing than aesthetic appearance and are looking for more meaningful interactions with businesses.
Another brand that has done well to pivot and adapt to changing needs is Secret Cinema. With our need to feel connected heightened during this time, we’ve seen a huge increase in online hangouts in lieu of being able to be physically with friends and family. Secret Cinema has tapped into this well in launching their Secret Sofa project. The events are sponsored by Haagen Dazs, which has teamed up with Amazon Prime to bring ice cream treats straight to people’s doors. Every week, the Secret Sofa community can enjoy some great films together and are encouraged to get involved with characters and costumes, era-defining music and activities – as they would do if they were attending an original Secret Cinema event. This great initiative provides people with a weekly ‘event’ to look forward to from inside their own homes whilst also still catering to the community aspect of Secret Cinema gatherings.
More than ever before, it’s important for brands to be genuine. Customers will be anxious; some may be unwell and others even grieving. Awareness of tone and how messages may be received is crucial for maintaining loyalty. By adapting to new needs and providing customers with a thoughtful and valuable experience, both brands and customers can help each other navigate through difficult times of crisis.