As someone who spends a lot of time consulting with retail leaders—and a former retail operator myself—I’ve thought about what you can do to keep business going during the pandemic. Whether you run a store, a fulfillment center or a restaurant shifting to 100% takeout, here are a few ideas that will help you weather these challenging times.
Keep the lines of communication open. Maintain open, honest conversations with your suppliers (something I learned from the 2008 financial crisis). Keep reaching out to your customers to let them know your brand is okay, then see if you can help them somehow. And regularly acknowledge the herculean efforts your employees and store associates are making to serve your customers and give them the help they need.
Finally, hosting a virtual town hall each morning for those who want to join is a great way to reduce the amount of uncertainty that arises during a crisis, as well as maintain a sense of teamwork and common purpose. In our new work-from-home world, any time we can personally connect with the people we interact with is valuable.
Move your roadmaps forward. If your stores or restaurants don’t support buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), curbside delivery or integration with food delivery services like Uber Eats already, now’s the time to start. Establish a cross-functional team to understand how you can implement these services. If you already have contactless payment available in your store, encourage your customers to use that instead of a credit card or cash. And shift to technology partners who charge on a per-use or monthly basis.
Ship a little extra reassurance. Always include a message in your e-commerce shipments that describes how you are protecting your fulfillment employees from infection, and reinforce what your customers should do in their daily lives to protect themselves. You don’t have to be serious all the time—you could provide some light-hearted tips on things to do if you’re under a shelter-in-place order, for example. But always be helpful and sincere in your communications.
Move your video conferencing to the cloud. According to Google Trends, searches for online meeting tools grew over 700% in mid-March. If you don’t have this capability in your company already, understand that there are opportunities to quickly get access to and deploy HD meeting capabilities. If you already have this capability, it’s important to understand the impact of the increased usage on your network.
Embrace the unknown
Uncertainty is now a fact of our daily lives. But with that uncertainty comes a new perspective: Things that looked like huge barriers to changing the way we do business now look insignificant in this crisis. So there’s no better, or more necessary, time to innovate.
In Part 2 of this series, I’ll share some thoughts on what a post-pandemic retail world will look like. In the meantime, I welcome your suggestions and ideas. What are you doing to manage this crisis in your retail operation? Did I miss anything? Let me know at Jeffrey.Neville@windstream.com.