How retailers can prepare for Covid-19
The impact of the coronavirus is being felt by virtually every industry and has gripped South Africa and the world is a very real panic.
As South Africa most likely will go into lockdown in the coming days - seeing all non-essential businesses to shut for the duration of the lockdown - these very important measures have affected all businesses, many of which are now closing their doors for an indefinite period of time.
The COVID-19 pandemic The current medical, financial and psychological fallout of the coronavirus will have a real impact on retailers – regardless of how real the threat is or becomes.
Many smaller retailers will see customers disappear and will see retail jobs lost and some retailers even go out of business. Hopefully, and most importantly, we will be able to keep our teams, our customers and ourselves safe. The impact will be significant for our retail industry.
Retailers need to get on the front foot, understand the current mindset of customers and make tactical adjustments to ride the wave as well as possible.
Let’s look at the impact on customers’ lives. There is anxiety over the availability of household staples. Our work schedules and job security is unclear. Travel plans are disrupted. Financial investments are in free fall. The health of ourselves and our loved ones is at risk. All of this in the space of a couple of weeks.
In a disrupted and unknown world, what are consumers looking for right now? It is certainty and security. We are back to the most basic level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
While the coronavirus continues to spread, and news cycles and dinner table conversations revolve around it, frivolous retail spending will not be the centre of our customers’ world. However, we can pivot our offer to give customers some certainty and security in their new world.
Communicate clearly and effectively
Now is not the time for elaborate promotions or whimsical storytelling. Did you know that the 2011 film, Contagion, is back in the Top 10 movies on iTunes? Stay precise but not panicked to get the messages through.
Prioritise easy access to products
Physical footfall will drop and visits to public spaces will be more purposeful. With consumers in a task-oriented mindset, think about how you make those tasks easy to achieve. Home delivery options are essential. Click and collect, reserve in store and accurate views of store inventory give customers certainty. Subscriptions can guarantee access to product. South African retailers are all stepping up and making these things as possible as they can on limited time.. Make it easy for customers to get their hands on your product. Now is not the time for “experiential” retail.
Break down new decision barriers
As consumer confidence plummets, there will be myriad excuses why customers won’t spend with you. It could be uncertainty about upcoming work and life schedules. Uncertainty around future pricing or availability. Uncertainty around our ability to deliver what is promised.
Demonstrate our commitment to safety
We need to take measures to prove that we take the threat seriously, and customers can trust that they are safe with us. Simple steps include clean and tidy stores to demonstrate control. Access to sanitisers. Orderly lines and processes. The pallet roll-out frenzy has to stop. International makeup retailer Sephora stood out early on by cancelling all in-store makeup services to limit the risk of spread. All these public safety displays tell customers that we understand their trepidation. And this is a safe space.
Put the wellbeing of our staff first
If our teams have customers shouting at them, are working through sickness or worried about job security, their anxiety will flow onto our customers. Some employers have guaranteed their teams, including casuals, will be covered if they need to be quarantined or look after relatives. .Rather than stress our teams or push them harder to meet slipping sales targets, we need to prioritise looking after them. They are our number one priority.
These are all retail fundamentals. The difference is that these fundamentals are usually buried beneath more exciting and innovative initiatives.
Who knows how long the coronavirus will dominate the headlines and our customers’ headspace? But for now, it is time to focus on the most basic customer needs of certainty and security while we ride this wave out. It has led to the disruption of everyday life, with local governments enacting strict measures to contain the virus’ spread.
Follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn for the latest retail news and humour.