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Keep Calm and Carry On: Retail Marketing in the Time of COVID-19

Ah, the new normal. Rolling into 2021, we can see that while it’s a whole new year, it is indeed NOT a whole new ballgame in the marketing world. In fact, it’s a lot like the 7th inning stretch. Retailers and vendors have adapted their strategies to meet a massive shift in consumer behavior, increased online presence and digital channels to be more available during the temporary shutdowns of brick & mortar stores, and sought more than ever to address customer needs and fears.

The current (and evolving) situation is complex and the response by retailers and vendors will have a major impact on how well they weather this storm. This is an opportunity to out-perform competitors who are less able to adjust to the changing regulations and demands of a brick & mortar store or to pivot to a seamless online presence. It is also a chance to plan for the long haul and to be a force for good to customers and the community as the future unfolds.

As you consider your marketing approach, keep in mind the current customer landscape and how you can best respond:

SENSITIVITY IS JOB ONE. Stay very aware that people have lost income and perhaps more. They are shopping differently now. Some people are shopping as a fun escape, so that dynamic is another polarity. We are in the middle of a pandemic, so any campaigns using “Spring Fever” or showing lots of people together at parties or the beach should be updated posthaste.

CONSUMER DISTRACTION IS AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH. People are adjusting to WFH while watching their children. They are in online meetings and multi-tasking during them. They are teaching their children at home and checking on loved ones. The average millennial switches digital platforms an average of 27 times per hour! That is a lot of distraction. Your customers are overwhelmed more than ever. Abandonment retargeting campaigns are crucial right now – and across all channels.

FLEXIBILITY IS CRITICAL. Every day, things are changing. You need to move quickly and efficiently and pivot often. This keeps life interesting, and it also keeps overcomplicating any processes important. Keep it simple. Stay flexible.

Once you’ve considered your customers’ POV, you can shift to thinking about your own business strategies and how to adjust to some of the changes to your business, whether that be site traffic, consumer buying behavior, inventory, or something else.

  1. Be safe and let your customers know you are being safe. Remind customers that you are aware and concerned about consumer safety. Signs and arrows to encourage mask-wearing and social distancing in-store, as well as posted cleaning measures and having staff periodically on the store floor cleaning, will go a long way to building customer confidence. This is less of a necessity online, but reassure your client base that you are following WHO, CDC, and local government guidelines to do your part to ensure their health and wellness. This will affect your bottom line.
  2. Offer convenience as much as possible. Whether your presence is completely online or brick & motar, convenience is what people seek right now. Make it paramount. Use web pop-ups to feature time-sensitive messages and critical communication about store hours, inventory, safety, etc. Curbside pickup and delivery are more popular than ever and need to be advertised.
  3. Run digital promotions to pull customers online. Leverage in-store customer data to reach those who shop only in store. Educate them on the perks of the online world (ease, convenience, discounts). Remind them that they can get what they want online without having to face the brave new world (“Check out your favorites online!” “New arrivals are posted on our website!”)
  4. Inventory issues? Launch product alerts. Instead of letting inventory issues pause your promotions, use a product alert to nudge customers toward an essential they need or a product they care about. Detection software allows you to quickly target customers who have viewed, carted, purchased, or placed on a wishlist certain products, and subsequently automates high-conversion messaging.
  5. Evaluate and streamline. Spring is coming. And retail spring is coming. Now is the time to take a look at products, services, processes, and pricing. What needs ironing out? What needs consolidating? What needs to be culled or omitted or maximized? What needs amping up?

We can’t solve every challenge you are experiencing in the retail world, but hopefully these helpful tips will help you focus on what you can change in order to provide the utmost care and convenience to your customers and how to keep your marketing efforts alive, tactful, and impactful at this time.