COVID-19 and Retailers: How to Cope According to 10+ Retailers

The coronavirus has severely impacted retail. Here’s what you can do to stay afloat. 

Nikole Wintermeier | Mar 30, 2020

covid-19-for-retailers

We talked to professionals working in retail, ranging from eCommerce managers and managing directors, to brand CEOs and supply and logistics officers. Based on their frontline experiences, we’ve outlined several strategies to help you through this difficult period. 

 

Have travel bans caused delays in your production? Is your supply chain disrupted? Did you have plans for awesome marketing campaigns that are now put on hold? 

You’re not alone. Everyone is in the same boat. The COVID-19 crisis has become a global pandemic. 

Brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to close. Your customers are tightening their purses given the uncertainty of the future. And while you may have more traffic online, you’re still losing revenue. 

This boat may feel like it’s sinking. But we’re here to give you ways to stay afloat. 

Talking to retailers across different verticals, there are three strategic areas of focus that you should adopt to cope with the coronavirus and its impact:

  • Public health, safety, and information
  • Flexibility in times of volatility
  • Reattribute your budget and attention online

These characteristics will help you overcome your most obvious bottlenecks. We’ll dive into these throughout this article. 

Then, I’ll show you six strategies your peers are already experimenting with to mitigate the crisis. 

It’s important that we all support each other during this time. If you have any more ideas about how retailers can cope with COVID-19, please leave a comment at the end of this post or get in touch by clicking on the CTA! 

 

Public healthy, safety, and information

 

1. Ensure your employees and customers are healthy and happy


The most important thing to remember during this pandemic is the health and safety of your customers and employees, especially the most vulnerable (the disabled, elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions). 

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 your company should:

  • Champion social distancing 
  • Enforce WHO hygiene standards (i.e., keeping 1.5m between employees and customers and washing hands)
  • Provide hand sanitizer in offices and stores

We want to help you manage COVID-19 information with speed and scale (free of charge). Check the end of this article to see how you can use our technology to display COVID-19 messages throughout your webshop so your customers are informed with the latest updates.

On the frontline of grocery store madness in the Netherlands, Jumbo stays operational, thanks to their employee satisfaction. 

 

Jumbo how retailers are coping with COVID-19Jumbo Kortenhoef on Facebook showing appreciation for their staff: “Unfortunately, our shipment only arrived at 22:00.This amazing team started at 7:00 this morning to fill the shelves. Thanks to their effort, we can provide you with all of your groceries, also in these times. #proudofourteam #teamjumbo #everythingforthecustomer”

 

“Right now, keeping your employees happy is top-of-mind. We really depend on them to be flexible, so it’s important that we show our appreciation.” - Sjors van der Vaart, team leader at Jumbo, Kortenhoef 

Sjors van der Vaart, team leader at Jumbo, keeps his employees coming back by providing small incentives at the end of their shifts. 

“These are 15-16-year-olds who don’t owe the company anything,” Sjors says, “The fact that they keep coming into work at crazy hours needs to be rewarded”. 

 

jumbo medal reward employee-1Jumbo is also handing out medals to their employees (the one above for a truck driver) 

 

Grocery stores are the ones staying open during the corona-crisis. And Jumbo is setting a stellar example for keeping their employees happy and rewarding their hard work. 

For No Label, forced closures mean many employees are working from home. Managing director Ruben Fust says that “people aren’t ready to shop yet. Instead, the sentiment should be about supporting each other.”

For your business to make it through this time, it’s about keeping your employees healthy and working, whilst keeping your customers happy and informed. 

So how do you provide the right kind of information in the right kind of way?  

 

2. Make sure your brand is engaging with the current climate


As a brand, you need to engage with the coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean you have to shout about it. Panicked communication about COVID-19 in panicked times does nothing to ease your shopper’s stress. 

 

panic buying coronavirus how retailers are coping with COVID-19Panic buying during COVID-19 is a result of misinformation.

 

“To try to mitigate panic-buying, employees need to give the right information to the customer,” says Sjors, who’s seen enough panic-buying at Jumbo in the past month. 

For the wine webshop Wijnbeurs, they’ve taken a subtle approach in communicating information about the coronavirus. 

“We already send out two emails per week, so we didn’t see the need for an extra COVID-message,” says eCommerce director Karin Castenmiller. “Instead, we send commercial emails as planned, with a pre-header that says we are still delivering and a below the fold information block with health and safety considerations.” 

Wijnbeurs’ target audience is the 40+ demographic. Health and safety instructions are crucial for them. But it’s also important to not overload this less tech-savvy segment with even more email campaigns. 

 

Nudie Jeans email how retailers cope with COVID-19


An example of a COVID-themed email that does work well is from Nudie Jeans.

 

Nudie Jeans email how retailers cope with COVID-19

 

The email is an authentic piece of communication that gives information on how to do good on a community level. People look to brands to take a stance on social issues, and a newsletter with practical information is a good way of showing how to help. 

Whatever your COVID-marketing strategy, you should be pushing content that resembles who you’re targeting. This is marketing 101, of course, but one that you should do well to remember, especially now.

For example, founder and CEO of thegreenlabels, Claudia Angeli, has been ramping up her Instagram (IG) content with coronavirus themed messages that serve to both inform and delight her social media customers. 

 

the green labels ig content how retailers cope with COVID-19

 

“It’s important to adapt our content with a balance of engaging, fun content, and useful information.” - Claudia Angeli, Founder & CEO of thegreenlabels

Thegreenlabels puts COVID-themed quizzes and polls on their IG stories. At the same time, they champion social distancing in a fun and engaging way. 

 


allbirds COVID retailers

 

Allbirds, on the other hand, engages in corporate social responsibility with this campaign to donate free shoes to health workers who are fighting on the coronavirus frontline. 

According to digital commerce expert Dimitri Arts, 

“Businesses should tone down their aggressive pricing strategies to mitigate short term losses. I would rather like to see how they can offer premium services and help consumers get the right products and information at the right time instead of being omnipresent and taking advantage of the situation.”  

For smaller webshops like No Label, Nudie Jeans, and thegreenlabels, authenticity in information and consumer engagement in their brand tone-of-voice is key to cutting through the COVID-19 misinformation and anxiety.  

 

Flexibility in times of volatility 

 

1. Have the ability to scale up and scale-down with ease 

 

Secondly, it’s important throughout this crisis that you’re flexible. Things change day by day. If you have the ability to scale up and down easily then this will carve out your competitive advantage in a volatile marketplace. 

Try using a hybrid model of external paid resources and internal resources so that you can make layoffs less likely. Hiring freelancers may also help to keep things scalable and financially sound. 

Managing director of No Label, Ruben Fust, states, “despite everything, we are still planning to go ahead with opening stores this year. We believe that these challenging times can present opportunities.”

Again, it won’t do you any good to go into panic mode. Things are volatile, which means they will keep going up and down in the next coming months. Be prepared for this, but not at the expense of changing your long term strategy and values.

 

weekday Ig campaign how retailers cope with COVID-19

Weekday still dropped their spring line in March as planned

 

For example, Multiple Identities are making plans to mitigate supply chain disruptions. “We are starting to make executive decisions about where things are produced,” fashion designer Fiona Hesse says. 

Home Depot also created a contingency plan to ensure minimal impact of the coronavirus on their massive supply chain. 

Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen. But the more contingencies you can make now without disrupting your entire marketing strategy, the better it will be for your business in the long run. 

“Brands need to keep doing what they’re good at which is engaging and inspiring their consumers. They should hold on to the same digital communication plans they had prior to the coronavirus.” - Dimitri Arts, Digital Commerce Expert

 

2. Working from home

 

The dream, the meme, the quarantine. Most companies in this digital age are capable of working from home, which means it’s even more important to adapt.

nike stay inside tweet COVID campaign

Nike twitter campaign pushing “staying home” as a global responsibility.

Push “at-home” as a value proposition as this will both engage your customers and protect their health. A “campaign of comfort” may work well for some brands over others (I’m thinking about all the money I’m about to spend on comfy trousers), but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least push content that is in line with this. 

For example, Decathlon chooses to highlight products in their assortment that caters to at-home families:

 

decathlon how retailers are coping with COVID-19

 

Your employees are also working from home. So you’ll need an internal strategy in place to ensure that everyone is still working towards a unified direction.

“It’s important to stay connected, even while working from home. We make sure to have social as well as professional calls every day.” - Anonymous, Consumer Goods Company. 

We can attest to this. Every Friday we have our usual “borrel” and drinks over Google Hangouts, as a way to keep the team spirit alive. 

 

how to cope with COVID-19

Flattering shot of half the Crobox team without drink-in-hand, but you get the idea. 

eCommerce manager of Wijnbeurs, Karin Castenmiller, also keeps up daily calls with her supply and logistics departments, plus any other areas in need of contact. “Commercial planning and being aware of any changes that could happen,” are ways Karin keeps things going in the business. 

What all these retailers can agree on is that there should be a balance between “business as usual” and being mindful of volatility - and ready to make quick changes if need be. 




Reattribute your budget and attention online

 

1. Cater to a new cohort coming online 

 

Since the closure of your physical stores, you might already be seeing more traffic online. This may not be the case for everyone, seeing as consumer spending is being completely reinvented by the COVID-era. 

retail pulse how retailers are coping with COVID-19Screenshot 2020-03-27 at 12.09.35
Both graphs from Retail Pulse showing consumer spending trends Feb 2020-Mar 2020 amidst COVID-19 in pure player eCommerce and fashion. 

 

But for Susanna A., sales assistant at Weekday, she claims that “despite the decreased traffic in-store, our online sales actually increased.” 

So for those of you with higher on-site conversions, it’s time to look into who those users are. Conceivably, you will find a new cohort of people shopping online. These may be less tech-savvy, so it’s important that you make things easy for them. 

“Easy to navigate, easy to find, and easy to look at - these are the key elements of any good eCommerce design,” - Patrick Oberstadt, Consumer Psychologist at Crobox. 

Test your on-site platform to deal with incoming traffic. And then optimize your webshop to be free of UX bottlenecks (read about optimizing conversions here). 



2. eCommerce optimization 

 

With more and more people peering out behind screens from their quarantined nests, you need to go back to the basics. 

By this, I mean:

  • Is your webshop easy to navigate? 
  • Can I find what I’m looking for at first glance if I haven’t been to your website before? 
  • Do I have a clear idea of shipping costs and measures taken to ensure COVID-19 protection at shipping?
  • Can I checkout quickly and with ease? 


wijnbeurs retailers coping with covid


Wijnbeurs has optimized their homepage with the notification, “we still deliver your favorite wine to your home”. This is a Dynamic Message that redirects you to a landing page providing more information about the coronavirus when clicked. 

“Right now, we are trying to inform our clients as best we can. We try to look forward by planning our supply, and taking this crisis day by day.” - Karin Castenmiller, eCommerce director of Wijnbeurs.

At the end of this article, you’ll learn more about Dynamic Messages. We’re even offering a free Dynamic Messaging service to help you optimize your COVID-19 communication. More on this later!

For now, let’s have a peek at how these retailers are coping with the coronavirus in real-time. Here are a couple of strategies you can also start experimenting with to get you on your feet. 

 

6 strategies you can start with right now!

 

“Right now we are still in crisis mode. But when people see the end of the tunnel, they will start shopping again.” - Claudia Angeli, Founder & CEO of thegreenlabels 

1. Provide gift cards


the green labels how retailers can cope with COVID-19Thegreenlabels gift card offer

 

Thegreenlabels recently offered a customer a gift card because the shopper wanted to support the business but just wasn’t ready to shop yet. Consumers want to help but aren’t ready to make hedonic purchases in a fickle COVID-19 economy. Gift cards are a good way to avoid revenue loss, whilst keeping loyal customers top-of-mind.  

FYI, the travel industry is doing the same thing by providing customers with vouchers should they want to book a flight/train at a later date! 

 

2. Test, test, test!

 

“I really believe that if you have the capability to test things - like free shipping thresholds - do it now.” Dimitri Arts, Digital Commerce Expert

A lot of people are more online now than they’ve ever been before. They may not be buying, but they will certainly be browsing (guilty!). This is the best time to test what works and what doesn’t on-site in order to optimize your conversions.  

For example, given the strain on delivery and shipping imposed by COVID-19, it might suit your business to change shipping thresholds. But you should first test to see whether this has an impact on your conversions. 

 

ab testing how retailers can cope with COVID-19A/B testing example of copy variant in smart notification

 

If you can invite your consumers to be more conscious of how they buy, then this will help navigate the corona-crisis. 

There’s also no time like the present to test all your nitty-gritty UX parts like colors, buttons, copy-variants, and product badges. 

 

3. Smart pricing strategies

 

“Slashing prices could convince wary shoppers to spend now, but it’ll hamstring profitability in the long run.” - Halie LeSavage, Retail Brew

The one thing that you should not be doing is pushing products with large discounts. Instead, be smart about your pricing. 

Dimitri Arts advises to “leverage your CRM models to open a dialogue with your customers, instead of just pushing your products.” 

Continue to track your consumers’ sentiment as this will determine the future of your brand. For example, in summer people go on holiday, right? Maybe not. 

Given COVID-19 travel restrictions, this may be less likely. You can leverage this either by launching collections later or modifying summer campaigns to show your customers how the same products can be used in the current situation

The result of the COVID-19 crisis on retail may indeed be a price-fight between retailers. But instead of cutting your prices to remain competitive, look at your actual offering to see what you can do that will be profitable long-term. 

 

4. Going local 

 

56% of consumers are happy to hear about how brands are helping out during the coronavirus pandemic. And for many consumers, there will be a desire to support local businesses.

Since managing director of No Label Ruben Fust believes that more consumers will be focusing their efforts on supporting smaller businesses, his aim is to show products that are practical, high-quality, and the company as small - 

“We feel that now we have to show the face behind the company. We need to be authentic, and give our customers an idea of who is keeping the business running so that people know we aren’t a big corporate.” - Ruben Fust, Managing Director of No Label 

no label how retailers can cope with COVID-19

No Label “About Us” page. 

 

5. Boost your psychographic profiles 

psychographic puzzle how retailers can cope with COVIDCheck out this post on psychographic segmentation for some examples

 

When the time comes where people are psychologically ready to start shopping again, you want to be the brand that they come back too. 

“People will continue to buy from brands they share the same values with, so it’s important that we know our customers well.” - Anonymous, Consumer Goods Company

Psychographic data is information about your consumers’ lifestyles, emotions, values, and are necessary data points that will reveal ways where you can help to relieve some COVID-19 anxiety.  

A consumer psychologist writing for Forbes suggests that, “Once the immediate threat lifts [...] luxury consumers will come back stronger in a backlash against all the worry and anxiety they came through.”

Therefore, it’s a good time to start re-investing time and money into understanding your customers on a deeper level. Psychographics are a good start

 

6. Dynamic Messages on-site 


COVID-19 dynamic message how retaiers can copeExample of a Dynamic Message on the homepage

 

Now more than ever, it’s critical that you communicate updates about your company in real-time. Informing your customers on store closures or openings, your COVID-19 statement, or any shipping disruptions should be done clearly throughout your website. 

Whatever the use case, Dynamic Messages are a good way to engage your customers and provide coronavirus-related messaging. These are nudges that can be implemented throughout your website. 

 

covid-messages

COVID-19 Dynamic Message examples 

 

Encompassing all the characteristics that we talked about throughout this article, these Dynamic Messages:

  1. Could provide healthy, safety, and information about the virus for your customers
  2. Can be easily implemented with a Javascript snippet and quickly adjusted as new information comes available 
  3. Cater to a new cohort of coronavirus shoppers coming online who need more information from brands they trust and love

The best thing about our Dynamic Messages is that we are offering them completely free of charge! 

This is our way to give back to the retail industry in this challenging time. We can help you implement these Dynamic Messages in any way that suits your needs, completely for free, with no strings attached. 

Just click the CTA below to let us know how we can help!



Conclusion:

 

To wrap up, you should implement these characteristics within your business to stay afloat during COVID-19 and its backlash:

  1. Public healthy, safety, and information
  2. Flexibility in times of volatility 
  3. Reattribute your budget and attention online

You can then start experimenting with different strategies. 

If you have any more tips and tricks that will help your peers make it through this challenging time, feel free to comment, share, or get in touch!

Now more than ever, you should be engaging your customers with the right kind of information at the right time. Dynamic Messages are an easy way we can help you achieve this. 


I you’re interested in having us help you with your COVID-19 messaging, you can learn more by clicking on the CTA below!

covid dynamic messaging retail