How Retail Brands Are Adapting Strategies Around COVID-19


Throughout the US, store-based brands and retailers are adapting to challenging times with new sales and marketing strategies for dealing with COVID-19. Here’s what some well-known retail brands are doing.

The most popular Go-To strategies right now: curbside pickup and home delivery

Many “non-essential” businesses are closing their doors to shoppers and turning them into pickup points for online orders brought to customers’ cars. This “BOPIS” model (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) was already growing in popularity, but now it’s exploding as many retailers are using it as their main survival strategy during the Coronavirus crisis. For now, in many places it’s  Buy Online, Pickup At Curb, or “BOPAC”) since customers can’t, or may choose not to, enter most stores.

Retailers like The Container Store and Nordstrom are already set up to handle curbside orders, with technology and processing in place. Products move smoothly from order placement to onsite fulfillment with help from automated platforms.

Other retailers, like fabric retailer Joann, decided to launch curbside in response to the coronavirus, and are figuring out their processes on the fly. Joann already had a robust e-commerce site, but it was only set up for shipping to customers, not pickups.

The Michaels Company is an arts and crafts retailer that already offered a BOPIS option. This made it easy for the company to launch curbside pickup this month through its e-commerce site.

Electronics and office supply retailer Best Buy already offered curbside pickup, but moved to a curbside-only service for all its 977 U.S. stores on an interim basis. Deliveries are also still an option. 

International home goods retailer IKEA offers the same BOPIS/home delivery options throughout its US and European store locations, relying on its pre-existing robust e-commerce platform to continue satisfying shoppers’ needs.

Other e-commerce strategies that can be deployed right now

Respond to new needs with innovation, like these brands are doing:

Lululemon has turned its retail stores into temporary local shipping warehouses, allowing customers to order inventory already in stock and have it shipped to them locally for faster delivery. It’s also a strategy for at least partial employee retention, as store employees are called back in to handle order fulfillment and shipments instead of ringing up sales at the counter.

Nike had to rapidly re-tool its China operations when Coronavirus first hit, improvising as it went. Now, the company is using its recent experience merging e-commerce with store operations in China during that country’s shutdown. The brand has already begun restoring normalcy and reopening its retail stores, including one in Wuhan.

Petsmart, which already owns a giant ecommerce-only brand called Chewy, is also offering BOPIS options at its Petsmart store locations, with a 10% discount incentive for using the service. Because Chewy has been overwhelmed with a huge surge in orders since the crisis began, many orders including Autoship orders are experiencing delays of a week or more. Although in effect it is competing with itself, Petsmart’s BOPIS strategy is being used to fill the gap when the customer needs their dog food right now, not 10 days from now.

Use your digital marketing assets to stimulate and sustain demand.

Maintain or even boost digital marketing efforts for the foreseeable future. Social selling seems to be a better idea than push marketing at the moment.

Use Featured Items adspaces on your ecommerce storefront to advertise the kinds of products most needed or desired by people stuck at home. Run specials on bulk orders.

Get creative on social media. Stay engaged with communities and support people in difficult times. They will appreciate this and may reciprocate when in a position to do so.

Acknowledge the crisis, and communicate with customers about how you’re responding.

The basic principles of good communication with customers are to

  1. Be honest about any potential or actual service disruptions.
  2. Tell them how you are handling your operations to keep both staff and customers safe.
  3. Reassure customers that you will stay in communication if they have questions or concerns, and that you’ll share any relevant news, updates or changes with them.
  4. Keep your tone friendly and upbeat, and in a style consistent with how you generally communicate as a brand.

Adversity is giving rise to new kinds of e-commerce service businesses.

Groceries, personal care and wellness, pet products and household supplies are the categories seeing the biggest switchover to online shopping, and another e-commerce service industry has emerged to help redefine “shopping locally”

A newer company called Shipt (owned by Target) performs local order deliveries for stores like Costco, Target, CVS, Safeway and Petco. Unlike Instacart, which adds a charge for each delivery, Shipt operates on a membership fee model. Consumers sign up for a Shipt account, paying the company a monthly flat fee for delivery of items they can order from the inventory of their local stores. 

Consumers can shop within the Shipt app, which uses APIs to receive product feeds from the participating retailers. Rather than ordering and getting items from the main warehouse, products are delivered by Shipt drivers from the local store, which still must prepare and bag the customer orders. 

Before Coronavirus, orders could usually be delivered the same day, but due to the massive surge, delivery schedules are now dependent on the stores’ ability to pick and pack orders, and they are having great trouble keeping up with the demand. In many places in the US right now, it takes a week or more to get a grocery delivery even through Shipt.

More online shoppers, but most have less to spend

Once the COVID-19 crisis ends, a lot of customers currently using BOPIS will probably appreciate the convenience of that option and stick with it, says Brendan Witcher, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. But he expects some retailers to back off encouraging curbside pickup because it’s more costly to operate and decreases foot traffic inside stores, where shoppers often pick up additional displayed items on impulse.

The Coronavirus pandemic has created a lot more online shoppers, Witcher says. But as more people lose their jobs, it’s not clear that this will lead to higher overall ecommerce sales. He says evidence shows that online transactions have soared, but order values have not, as consumers focus on buying necessities instead of making discretionary purchases or buying big-ticket items like major appliances and luxury goods. With one exception….

One niche industry that’s shipping more orders than ever before: Wine

With anxiety at an all-time high, online wine merchant Wine Insiders is seeing an enormous surge in sales over the last few weeks. Orders from Western states, which are hit the hardest in the United States by the global pandemic, are about double the rest of the country. 

How e-commerce has been impacted so far – a look at Shoppingfeed’s own data

Our engineers inform us that sales were up 25% overall for the month of March, including a 31% spike during the critical period from March 9-14, when everyone everywhere began to avoid shopping at brick and mortar stores, even as they needed to stock up for emergencies.

The shopping behaviors follow a pretty predictable pattern consistent with what you’d expect to be the priorities of most people during this unique global emergency. 

The sectors that saw the most sales increase were, in descending order:

– Books / Media

– Creative

– Do-it-yourself

– Food

– Pet Store

– Sport

– Games and toys

Industries remaining fairly stable include:

– Gardening

– Household / Furniture

– Adult toys

– Electronics

– Baby/Children

Product categories showing the sharpest drops in sale were:

– Jewelry

– Ethically sourced products

– Fashions 

– Automotive

– Cosmetics

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