For centuries, pandemic-like crises have altered socio-economic dynamics while leaving behind some important lessons for mankind. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Spreading across newer epicenters with every passing day, the outbreak is leaving behind a trail of human and financial ruin. In these trying times, retailers, especially the ones operating through brick and mortar stores, are facing unprecedented disruption as traffic flow to the stores continue to decline sharply.
The Retail Response to COVID-19
As the outbreak compels nations to take stringent measures in the form of lockdowns, the retail industry recognizes that these actions will have large scale implications on their customer journey, and that the situation is changing on a daily basis. Unfortunately, they have very little time to respond. Buying habits are changing fast, with an increasing number of customers avoiding shopping at stores in lieu of online shopping. In the past two weeks alone, the amount of online shopping has risen dramatically and customers have bought more online groceries and medical supplies than ever before.
On the contrary, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for the retailers who operate physical stores as well as online channels to reassure consumers that they are with them during these turbulent times. Through various online marketing channels, these brands can stay in touch with end-users and guide them through their isolation for a successful customer experience.
Promoting optimum customer experience during a crisis is important and brands can achieve this by harnessing customer insights in real-time to respond to immediate changes in the supply chain, manage inventory and drive omnichannel promotions to direct consumers to the products they need. Most successful online businesses monitor social media platforms and other customer interaction channels to capture customer experience. This data is then analyzed in high-end customer analytics platforms to glean valuable insights in the form of demand patterns, preferences, customer journey maps.
Understanding customer journeys and preferences can help brands craft meaningful experiences even during times of crisis. For instance, a simple but sometimes daunting task of delivering goods at the customer’s doorstep goes a long way in building brand loyalty and reputation. And, players who can adapt rapidly to these new market dynamics by successfully understanding the pulse of the consumers will have a greater chance of surviving the crisis.
Staying Ready for the Post-COVID-19 World: Building Newer Capabilities
Pricing also plays a decisive role in shaping customer experience (CX) during crisis situations when a consumer’s buying prowess reduces significantly. To take the right pricing decisions, retailers need to analyze customer insights and sentiments through quick surveys and market research. For quick pricing adjustments and value-based pricing, retailers can also leverage transaction-level insights through advanced configure-price-and-quote (CPQ) applications to understand the price points that work best for consumers.
Additionally, retailers can also rethink their stock and supply chain models to enhance consumer shopping experiences. For instance, if a customer wants to purchase a product that is not readily available, the retailer should be able to provide it without the customer losing interest. To achieve this, retailers can work closely with existing suppliers while diversifying their supply chain models and procuring new vendors. They can also create contingency procurement plans to work as a failsafe during crisis situations.
Last but not the least, it is also important for retailers to protect their workforce by providing staff, inventory managers, line managers, product managers, and everybody at the frontline with the right protective gear to stay healthy for maintaining business continuity.
Consumer experience will continue to play a major role long after we overcome this crisis. Shoppers who bought online for the first time will now be more willing to do so in the future. Similar outbreaks may also occur in the future, allowing vulnerable people and the elderly to shop online. Providing a smooth CX for these shoppers will lead to repeat purchases.
For retailers, putting greater emphasis on online channels at this moment should not essentially mean taking advantage of the situation. Rather, it should come as a natural shift for the larger benefit of the people and community as a whole. It’s time for the retail industry leaders to not only lead from the front but also take quick decisions, transcend conventional boundaries, and be agile enough to respond to panic situations.