COVID-19 Checklist for Retailers, Part 2: 5 big ways business will change

by Jeffrey Neville
May 01, 2020

In my previous post, I talked about the steps you can take today to help your retail business stay afloat during the economic and social tsunami of COVID-19.

While it may seem far away, the day will come when we open the doors of our businesses again. Even though there are still plenty of unknowns at this point, we can be sure that we won’t be doing business the way we used to.

Here are some things I see unfolding in the post-pandemic retail world.

OfficeSuite HD Meeting Security

Today’s nice-to-haves will be tomorrow’s must-haves. A few weeks ago, the investments for buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, food delivery service, contactless payment and self-checkout were all justified as “improving customer experience to increase revenue.” Now these technologies enable consumer commerce under social distancing. Beyond the pandemic, these investments will become a set of mandatory risk management capabilities to protect future revenue.

Remote collaboration will have a permanent place in retail. While many retailers use video conferencing occasionally, most still prefer to do business in person. This forced work-from-home time will show retailers they can work effectively from a distance with their suppliers, vendors, remote locations, and store managers and associates. The use of telemedicine and chatbot triage diagnosis within the healthcare industry is the proof of concept that will validate and reinforce this acceptance.

IT investment will swing back to the supply chain. The same level of investment retailers have made in the digital transformation of the customer experience will migrate to the supply chain through projects that implement RFID and IoT.

Retailers will rethink traffic. The involuntary store and restaurant closures offer test cases for how customers use locations now versus when it’s safe to leave their homes again. Smart businesses will pay attention to this data and use it to re-evaluate which stores drive traffic, which ones drive brand awareness, and which stores just fulfill goods. Additionally, consumers who moved to 100% online interaction with your brand may not return your locations when they reopen.

Some retailers can try targeting different shoppers by daypart. The exclusive shopping hours some retailers are offering senior shoppers during the pandemic is an interesting experiment. While stores will likely go back to regular hours for all, specialty retailers should watch this temporary practice and consider changing their promotional messaging by daypart. For example, if most of your store traffic between the hours of 9:00 and 11:30 a.m. is made up of shoppers 65 and older, but that age group shifts to 24 to 40 during lunch hour drop-in traffic, you could swap out your front displays and window signage to promote to both audiences and improve conversions.

Start thinking about the next “new normal”

As we deal with the reality of COVID-19, we’re heads down, trying to keep our businesses functioning. I’d suggest finding a little time at some point to consider what the retail world might look like when the threat of coronavirus is lifted. The retailers that survive disruptions are the ones who can pivot, learn and adapt to changing market and social conditions. Hopefully this post will give you a few ideas to get started.

What will you do post-pandemic?

Have any thoughts about what you’ll be doing differently in your business? As always, let me know your thoughts—this is new territory for all of us! Connect with me at Jeffrey.Neville@windstream.com.