The coronavirus pandemic has brought retail to strange crossroads- the choice between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ has suddenly changed to basic necessities only.
It also doesn’t help that a global recession is staring right at us. As economic prospects go, there’s no win-win here.
COVID retail marketing strategies are new and uncertain, and no one knows exactly what might work. In this situation, your best bet is to cover those bases that you can.
Here are some aspects to focus on.
Start Omnichannel Retailing
If there’s just one tip you take away from this article- let it be this. Omnichannel retail is going to save you. At some point in the near future, we will move from buying just essential goods to buying a bit more.
At the time of publishing this article, lockdown restrictions are easing all across America and parts of Europe. However, it will be many months before large groups of people will venture out and shop offline.
In this scenario, going omnichannel opens up opportunities, not just to sell to existing customers but also new ones in new places as well.
You may choose to set up an online presence and operate your shops as dark stores to save costs. You can also start selling on marketplaces like Amazon so you don’t have to worry about the last-mile delivery of your products.
If you’re wondering where to start with omnichannel retail, here’s a comprehensive guide to get you started.
When moving online, many retailers worry that they don’t have enough reach. However, the times are such that existing offline customers will gladly move online if they know you’re present there. Look through existing customer data to send targeted emails to your customers, and be sure to mention where they can buy your products online.
Know What People Want To Buy
All known forecasts for this summer do not exist anymore, or do they? Experts have differing opinions on this subject.
For the next few months, the safest bets are essential goods. If you don’t already sell them, consider adding them to your catalog. Fast deliveries can help you immensely at a time when nearly everything essential is needed right away.
The best thing you can do is to keep checking trends reports- the simplest of which comes from Google Trends. Enter the search term (‘shoes’, ‘iPad’, etc.) to see how many people are searching for similar products in your geography.
Google has also come up with another tool to track rising retail categories in specific regions.
Go one step further and get customers to create wishlists so you know what they’re likely to buy in the future. On your website, ensure that the ‘Notify Me When Stock Arrives’ button is prominent next to out-of-stork items. When you’re back in stock, you can send customized alerts to people who wanted to buy them.
How And Where To Source Products From
Once you know what people want to buy, the next step is sourcing products. For one, global supply chains are fragile right now and will continue to be until lockdown restrictions are eased further the world over.
Consider moving to local supply- working with local manufacturers also helps you cut transport costs, and you can expect to receive your supplies much sooner than they would from a faraway manufacturing facility.
Usually, contracts with suppliers depend on bulk orders. However, vendors right now are willing to work with retailers where there is scope for long-term supply.
In other words, you may just be able to get away with ordering smaller quantities if you can promise your vendor that they’ll receive more business from you. Consider how you want to design these contracts so you save as much working capital as possible for the next six months.
Where can you find new vendors? Reddit forums are having animated conversations on this subject- and the best thing to do is to post a question there.
Fix Your Marketing And Communications Process
No COVID marketing strategy has yet stood the test of time, and that gives you a huge opportunity to test.
Thankfully for us all, the flurry of ‘we’re in this together’ messages have given way to some amount of normalcy in communication.
What customers DO want to know right now are:
- Whether the retailer in question is accepting online orders or not
- When their online orders will be shipped and delivered
- If selling perishable items, how old the stock in question is
- If the retail stores are open, what precautions are being taken to keep people safe, and
- To an extent, what practices are in place for the safety of the warehouse staff
Any socially relevant communication can be put up on social media only after these basic aspects have been covered.
If you have an advertising plan in place, don’t waste any money on items that people don’t need, or want, right now. People will likely click on the ad and not convert. However, if you do have products that are relevant or are on heavy discounts, use some ad money to help sell them faster.
This is also a good time to start building up some loyalty. Traditional loyalty programs can still work if they’re relevant to the times.
Steer away from offering gift vouchers that can be redeemed later, everyone is doing that! Instead, focus on adding value- clothing retailers can offer coupons for skincare products or virtual experiences. Electronics retailers can offer discounts on product bundles.
What You Need To Be Prepared For
It is safe to assume that supply woes in retail will only just have begun once lockdown restrictions are lifted further, and will likely continue for many months. Cutting costs has to be a priority if it isn’t already. Read more on how you can cut costs during this time.
With that in mind, ensure that you stock up adequately for fluctuations in supply because they will happen. A robust inventory management system can come to the rescue here- gathering sales data in real-time to help you forecast for the near future. Such a system can also help you decide when to reorder products, or even reorder automatically when you’re close to running out.