• July 16, 2020
  • By Matt Marakovitz , vice president of strategic services, The Lacek Group

Retailers Can Reach Their Customers With These 6 Ideas

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Remember ringing in 2020 on New Year’s Eve? That was eons ago—or at least it feels like it. Earlier that same day, a few news sources began reporting on a pneumonia outbreak in China. Who knew that in within months, the coronavirus would profoundly affect daily life in the United States? That millions of people would grow sick and more than 130,000 would die by mid-July? That 60 percent of U.S. retailers would temporarily, or permanently, close, and millions of people would lose their jobs?

It’s no wonder that our lives feel a bit surreal and that our consumer mind-sets are challenging for retailers to pin down. We’re taking on new tasks, like baking our own bread and cutting our own hair, that we used to pay others to do. We’re paying other people to do things we used to do for ourselves, like grocery shop. And we’re intensely focusing on feathering our nests, driving up profits at Wayfair and other online home merchants.

As retailers and people in retail-related businesses, what should we focus on during the second half of 2020? (Let’s hope it’s not swarms of locusts or natural disasters.) Here are six larger ideas to consider.

1. Take a look at your members today.

  • Are new loyalty program sign-ups happening during this crisis? While enrollments may be down, are new members more likely to shop online? Are clusters of new customers emerging that are worth cultivating? If so, consider creating look-alike groups to target in acquisition efforts. Pay attention, too, to where sign-ups are occurring—is a large percentage happening in store, or are most new members signing up online? Do they continue the purchase cycle online after sign-up? As enrollment behaviors shift, have you appropriately optimized the customer experience for enrollment and onboarding during these important interactions?
  • Research whether members are reactivating during this crisis.If they do, do they share commonalities that could clue you in on how to keep them during the recovery and beyond?
  • Examine members’ device types. Are they different than before the pandemic? What percentage of your customers uses desktop computers, mobile devices, or tablets? Should your marketing efforts change to accommodate device type?
  • What do members’ recent traffic patterns look like? Is there a difference in the time of day that your customers shop? Is a particular day (or days) of the week more popular than the rest of the week?
  • And finally, what product categories do members gravitate toward? And which ones do they leave alone? What does that information tell you going forward?

2. Build foundational tracking reports now. Doing so lets you respond quickly as the recovery unfolds—most likely, in an unpredictable way. To ensure prioritized views are at your fingertips, automate multiple cuts of data. For example, if your business serves customers nationwide, then consider regional chunks of data, such as performance; severity of pandemic (hot spot vs. low incidence); phase of recovery; competitive store-closure opportunity (e.g., Pier 1 and JCPenney); existing customer segments; and new customer segments, including at-risk populations (e.g., people over age 65).

3. Offer contactless interactions. It’s likely you’ve already restructured your checkout process, installing Plexiglas at cashier stands, adhering floor stickers to suggest where customers stand in line, and perhaps adding self-checkouts. Across the country, retailers like Amazon Go are offering cashierless options; U-Haul has rolled out an in-store contactless shopping option within its app; Kroger has announced its first pickup-only store; and quick-service restaurants are heavily relying on drive-thru operations. In addition, Apple Pay and tap-to-pay cards make contactless payments a snap, while PayPal’s new app feature allows customers to make payments at stores via QR codes. What contactless options can you offer to draw customers to your stores?

4. Offer video technology. Video technology is enabling some companies to perform services without entering customers’ homes. Task Rabbit, for instance, provides a virtual option where a professional guides a customer through furniture assembly. Deciem, a Toronto-based cosmetics company, offers virtual consultations via video, text, and phone chat. And David’s Bridal provides online appointments with stylists. Given this new way of serving customers, consider what new benefits your brand could provide to customers via video.

5. Introduce real-time COVID-19 updates. Google search trends suggest that people want clarity on COVID-19 policies—for example, in mid-March, there was a spike in “What is discretionary travel?” Anticipate member-specific questions, such as “When are the fewest customers in your store?” or “What special hours are available to shop?” Lidl, an Irish supermarket chain, launched a WhatsApp chatbot that helps customers select the best times to avoid long lines. Consider adding answers to such questions on your FAQ page.

6. Begin scenario plans for COVID-19 recurrences. The number of U.S. cases, after a period where it was diminishing, has started rising again precipitously in July. And worldwide, COVID-19 cases are rising faster than ever, at a rate of more than 200,000 a day, according to Johns Hopkins University. Obviously, the pandemic isn’t over. Additionally, leaders are warning that more and perhaps worse outbreaks may be on the way.

One hypothesis includes up to two additional major infection waves. How do you ensure an appropriate tone in your communications without giving up (or even growing) your share of voice? What learning from your foundational reporting can you apply to address the needs of specific customer segments?

Another hypothesis includes micro-outbreaks that require regions to shut down quickly. Consider the preparations required to quickly activate segmented marketing at a regional level. Also, contemplate product categories your best customers may want to load up on during this time and make it especially easy for them to purchase. 

A good mantra for retailers is this: The only constant in life is change. That’s likely never been truer than in 2020. This year we need to be flexible, engaged, creative, and determined. By authentically investing in our customers today, we’ll build relationships that are stronger and more long-lasting than they were at the start of this year.

Matt Marakovitz is vice president of strategic services for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based national leader in loyalty and customer engagement. The Lacek Group works with the world’s most respected brands, including Marriott, Carnival Cruise Line, U.S. Bank, Enterprise Holdings (National Car Rental, Alamo Rent a Car, Enterprise Rent-A-Car), United Airlines, Ford Motor Company, The Home Depot, and Dunkin’ Brands.

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