Customers Have Changed, Retailers Can Too

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Many normal things have been on pause for the majority of us. But, there’s no such thing as simply hitting “play” and returning to what life was like before coronavirus.

We’re entering a recession, which will likely reduce spending. There’s a lot of uncertainty about health and employment, which could change the way people think about shopping online and in stores. People have had time to think about what matters most to them, such as family and security. They’ve also had time to create new habits and forge new passions like yoga or gardening. Serious and light-hearted, community-minded and self-oriented, these new facets of life will inform the way retailers should approach their customers going forward.

Retailers have been forced to innovate and shift gears quickly, and this, too, will not go back to normal. For example, Nike and LuluLemon now have massive numbers of new members for their online fitness classes. Target’s Shipt service has attracted thousands of curbside pickup customers. Many businesses, big and small have broken out of their normal brand image to be more honest with their customers, admitting, for example, that they’ve had to furlough employees, and that they aren’t sure where they’ll be in the next few months, or when they can promise a reliable service again.

These changes can and should be taken into consideration as the world gradually reopens in 2020. We will have to press “play”, but we should plan for a different version of the movie than the one we expected.

A More Transparent Customer Dialogue

With a recession looming, shoppers will be more discerning about where, how, and when they spend their money. In addition to being conscious shoppers, consumers will also want to…know how their dollar affects the working conditions of the employees that retailers employ. They will expect to know more about where products came from and whether they are of high quality.

The tone that retailers have taken, brands from Everlane to PetSmart, is a more honest take on the inner workings of their business.  For example, the flower delivery business The Bouqs sent their customers an email that not only explained how their own employees were working remotely but also how they’re communicating regularly with their farmer partners. They also noted that they have an ongoing 25% discount for all healthcare workers during the crisis.

One email is not nearly enough. Brands should consider creating a long term communication strategy that shares with customers each and every change that occurs. If employees come back to work, brands will need to discuss how they’re kept safe. If the company is limiting supply of certain goods, changing store hours, or fulfillment options, every detail should be clearly communicated with a compassionate approach that keeps customer, employee, and community well-being in mind.

Focus On What Really Matters

Everyone has had a chance to rethink their priorities. Many people are dealing with health or employment problems. Others have realized that family and free time matter more than outward success and excess, while others might be in the mood to finally splurge after they’re able to go back out. It’s important to understand how each customer responds to messaging before making a misstep. That’s best achieved by testing, testing, testing – and thoughtfully segmenting based on these results.

Creating content that can be easily changed and personalized for customers can help increase relevance for different types of customers. Madewell sent newsletters that combine retail and messaging that can be swapped out for different customers. For example, one version of the email focuses on taking care of yourself at home, with comfortable clothes, healthy beauty products based on recent search and shopping history, all targeted towards a female shopper with kids. However, another version could easily show content for a work from home male profile.

Everlane combines content about how they are giving to charity in a way that seamlessly combines with eCommerce messaging. For example, the company is giving proceeds to a specific collection to Feeding America. These actions should not be considered one-offs, as they’ll continue to matter to people as they work to get back on their feet.

New Habits That Stick

A lot of people tried new things in the past six weeks, from a new show on Netflix to a new hobby or workout routine. Couple this with the fact that shop closures have forced people to get creative with their every-6-week personal services. People who used to care about hair color and make-up might decide to go natural. New products like bread makers and puzzles might stay in demand as people stick with the hobbies they took up while stuck at home. Brands should be watching trends carefully for this type of long term change as they market to consumers after social distancing is relaxed.

One instance of this comes from the clothing company Alo yoga. They sent an email that encourages customers to join the yoga community on social channels. With people working out at home, this kind of engaging messaging helps increase loyalty with new customers that decide to keep their new exercise program going.

The restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse sent an email promotion that reminds customers of their curbside pickup options as well as an offer for free delivery through April 30. Based on the popularity of this kind of offer, it’s possible that many companies extend them to keep customers coming back.

The new normal will take getting used to, and will have ups and downs. Even when restaurants have reopened it’s possible families will prefer the comfort of their own dining room and these offers will need to be extended. What’s most important is that brands keep connecting with customers with transparent and open dialogue. Shifting the tone to embrace the unknown will be a mountainous task for many brands but customers want to know that we are in this together and that the retailers they shop with are considerate of everything that’s happened and the lasting effects it has, both large and small.


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