Author’s note: As you might imagine, my inbox has been overloaded with questions revolving around what can be done in store to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant customer engagement issues. Here is my take on addressing the various queries, in part or in whole, of the submittals. One thing is certain; there will be much more to muse about in months ahead, and I’m looking forward to getting to the ‘other side’ with you all.
What can be done in-store to respond to COVID-19 and the resultant customer engagement issues?
Let’s face it: There is a new norm of customer engagement at retail, and its first initial does not start with the letter A. Just like that, we have a wholly new competitor no one could have ever imagined impacting retail and changing the way people shop our stores. It could be said this change was already happening with the advent of technology and insatiable consumer desire for immediacy in their retail experience, but this is now different. The pending pivot at retail is about space, perceived personal safety and literal non-engagement which is counter to everything we deem to be essential for a successful customer experience.
Fast forward to the flattening of the curve and having the economy back open for business. Do your stores and brand offer ‘convenience, frictionless and fresh, assuming clean, well-lit and safe,’ or are you falling short, giving your customers something to pause and think about? Perception is reality, and it will be dictatorial in how your customers choose to shop at your stores.
Customer confidence will be the single most coveted attribute in attracting, retaining and gaining new retail customers. They need to trust that you, as the business owner and the brand, are taking the necessary actions to provide a safe shopping experience for everyone within your four walls. Is there a singular answer or a checklist to determine what qualifies as trustworthy? The short answer is no. Reactive installation of plexiglass sneeze guards at the cash wrap is not a solution nor does it mean you have addressed the need to assure customer confidence. Shoehorning in a makeshift, field hospital of a drive-thru is not a solve either.
While we fall under the moniker of convenience retailing, everyone’s business is unique and individual in its own way. Buildings come in different shapes and sizes; customer bases differ by demographics and specific geographic locations; operations vary by offerings and consumer preferences. Point being there is not singular answer as to how to engage your customer at retail. You must take a strategic, systematic approach to assess what is required and frankly, doable, based on your specific situation.
Change can be good, assuming you and your business are on the correct side of the curve. That is why we always start with the question before stating the answer. What we do know is that retail going forward will not be the same as before. We also know that customers will be demanding a new engagement strategy and seeking options that were previously overlooked or simply not available. Take the time to formulate the question so you can respond with an appropriate answer and not give your customers the opportunity to pause when they think of you and your brand.
In your corner more than ever,
Andrew Swedenborg is retail expert with more than 20 years of experience within the convenience and grocery industries. He has worked with numerous retailers in the branding, design and deployment of retail concepts nationally. If you have a question for Swede, you can email him at: [email protected]