Commentary: Pivoting Amid a Crisis: How to Turn Closures into Opportunity
The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly taken a toll on most industries, and certainly retail has been amongst the hardest hit. Finding different ways to utilize store closures in this ever-evolving and truly unprecedented retail climate can pose challenges. It can also provide hidden, untapped opportunities for businesses across industries to reconnect with their customer bases and bolster aesthetics.
In fact, through this historic period of flux and uncertainty, one of the most important things for any business to consider is how to be best prepared to step into the “new normal” brought forth by COVID-19, how to remain relevant both today and in the future. While consumers may take time to find comfortability in physical spaces in the age of social distancing and self-quarantine, the opportunity to prepare them to re-enter these spaces, safely and with excitement, is now.
Here are four important factors for retailers, restaurants, and businesses to consider in order to transform market loss and closures into opportunities that will shape the future landscape of their business:
Never cease to engage with the customer – From online sales shipped directly to consumers; and buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) approaches; to curbside pickup options for locations that cannot remain open to the public—digitally engaging with customers is paramount to ensuring the resiliency and survival of any company. Marketing a message of dependability and helping, rather than selling, is key to any brand remaining relevant and impactful while locations are closed. Whether taking a national approach, adopting a regional point of view or viewing events as they unfold through a global lens. The perspective and tone of this engagement must evolve toward providing a support system for customers versus a hard sell.
Disengaging with the customer now – or even worse, continuing communication strategies as though it were still business as usual – will ultimately lead to a decline in customer loyalty that may prove to be difficult or impossible for businesses to recover from in the months and years to come. Maintaining a strong social media presence is one way to create a place where the brand can collaborate, share and engage with clients, and solidify the reputation of a business. In short, utilizing this time to become closer with end users through genuine, relatable and heartfelt engagement is an effective marketing strategy that can lead to real opportunities down the line.
Maintain spaces and reassess locations – While countless physical retail spaces and dining locations are forced to close their doors to the public for the foreseeable future, this is the time to assess the structure and layout of locations. Whether considering moving merchandise to decrease foot traffic in certain key areas or making aisles “one way only” and mapping out customer routes in order to keep up with social distancing guidelines—being prepared for the eventual reopening of each of your locations must always be at the forefront of future planning for any business. Proactive measures such as hand sanitizing stations and sneeze guards throughout key checkpoints must be considered now. Properly implementing these measures proactively is the best defense for protecting the future interests of any business that finds itself nearing re-opening.
Similarly, now may be the ideal time to take note of any projects that could potentially help elevate the aesthetics and overall function of the business, effectively breathing new life into individual locations. Surveys of the store, working to obtain asset lists while avoiding customer disruption, and planning for the continued use of contactless payments or curbside pickups are all excellent ways to use this time to become further organized and prepared.
Use this time as an opportunity to engage staff members on new company policies, health guidelines or industry trainings. Ensuring your staff feels supported and heard while they are home during these uncertain times will help to solidify their motivation once locations reopen. Now is the time to iron out the internal kinks in your business, in your stores, and with your team—to set the stage for a stronger tomorrow.
Capitalize on adaptability – Regardless of company size or scope, businesses across industries are feeling the impacts of the economic uncertainty brought forth by COVID-19. With unsold inventory in physical locations and fulfillment center productivity slowed by safety guidelines and social distancing, brands are striving to find creative solutions to their customer fulfillment needs.
With certain retailers, such as the jewelry company Kendra Scott now opting to pivot retail locations into distribution centers, this time may prove to be a perfect opportunity to reassess store counts, merchandise and functions to help drive sales. Businesses should consider focusing on their logistical approaches and frameworks to ensure they have the capacity when warehouses and distribution centers are ready to safely provide fulfillment once again. In the meantime, taking stock of strengths and finding creative business solutions is an excellent way to push any brand to continued success through this crisis.
Staying hopeful in uncertain times – By and large, around the globe, the general population is reacting in fear to these historically unprecedented circumstances. With economic stagnation impacting a variety of sectors including the airline and travel industries, retail is no exception. As time goes on, and the disruption to daily life becomes less pronounced, consumers will want life to return to some version of the way things were before.
Large companies, such as the Swedish furniture brand Ikea, are already noting large increases in customer engagement where shoppers are quickly returning to stores now reopened in both China and Germany. This trend will undoubtedly continue with other stores and commercial spaces across industries as Coronavirus guidelines gradually lesson and previously termed “nonessential” locations are allowed to once again open their doors. The important thing is to stay hopeful and to spread that optimism to customers. In such confusing and chaotic times, this certainty provided by businesses returning to the market with an adjusted approach will give way to optimism, comfortability and eventually sales.
Joseph Scaretta is the co-CEO and founder of CS Hudson. and has more than 15 years of experience in facilities management and construction. With CS Hudson predominantly focused on brick-and-mortar retailing, COVID-19 has forced Scaretta to find ways to work with clients who have currently closed shop. To adapt to the current crisis, CS Hudson is offering a diverse set of services to existing clients, as well as bank, restaurant and urgent care industry companies. Key offerings include coronavirus deep cleaning services; sneeze guard installations, both pre-packages and custom-designed; pop-up open air COVID019 testing centers; specialty signage installations supporting wayfinding, social distancing and new one-way aisle directions; board-ups of closed store locations to prevent vandalism; and store reformatting designed to reduce touch at employee-customer interaction points.