4 Ways Retailers Can Navigate A Post-Covid-19 World

Retailers in various regions of the country are beginning to welcome back shoppers and allow a stream of business that was blocked during the Covid-19 shutdown. However, as doors open, they must follow government-mandated restrictions such as running on 25% capacity (in some states), adhering to new employee distancing protocols, and slimming operating hours. This allows for more foot traffic business, but nothing compared to what consumers and retailers were once accustomed to.  

Brands are also facing unprecedented demand for online orders. For example, retailers within Radial’s network witnessed a 70% increase in orders in April 2020 compared to their order volumes in April 2019. As shopping habits continue evolving in the wake of Covid-19, omnichannel options will be imperative for business continuity.

Retailers are finding that developing an omnichannel experience for shoppers is no longer a modern, unique competitive strategy. It’s now a requirement for any retailer looking to power through what the unforeseeable future has in store. 

Embracing BOPIS & BOPAC 

Consumers are currently taking advantage of buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS) and buy online pick up at curbside (BOPAC) options – and the likelihood is high they will continue shopping this way. Between March 12 and March 15 alone, BOPIS sales were up nearly 83%. Retailers need to ensure this option is always available and seamless for those shoppers  so that they may continue to avoid public situations with contactless options. BOPIS is unique in that it allows retailers to ensure a safe transaction while providing gratification and products in-hand immediately with limited to no interaction. In return, this leads to increased customer loyalty that lasts beyond the current pandemic and keeps business flowing while naturally restricting foot traffic. 

Seamlessly integrating omnichannel with the in-store experience must allow consumers to feel the same convenience as shopping in store. This requires investing in omnichannel technology that enables flexible fulfillment options to meet shoppers wherever they’re most comfortable, allowing for turnkey abilities that adequately protect fulfillment promises if a location can no longer fulfill orders.

Use your store as a fulfillment center

Omnichannel operations allow retailers to be more creative and nimbler in their approach to fulfillment. Leveraging brick-and-mortar storefronts to fulfill online orders can help retailers better manage inventory and save on supply chain costs. It can also provide store employees with new revenue-driving roles, as retailers can set aside space within the store for the purpose of fulfilling orders (while following proper social distancing protocols). Using stores as mini-fulfillment centers can be a highly effective strategy as retailers reopen and look for ways to satisfy higher online orders.

Execution on this strategy may require fulfillment from multiple locations for a single order. Retailers can consider repurposing stores that were once designed for foot traffic into “dark stores” that provide the ability to pick up orders in short periods of time. Consider expanding in-store offerings to include curb side returns or exchanges. Retailers should continue to prioritize the options that allow the consumer to purchase items when they want, without disruption, and with limited human exposure. 

It’s very important to consider shopper preferences when expanding this strategy. Some consumers will grab pick-up orders and leave the store with minimal interaction. Others require interaction or need to try products, like apparel. A shoe retailer’s approach will vary from an office supply retailer because consumers typically customers want to try on shoes before purchasing. On the other hand, a consumer purchasing office supplies already knows what they’re getting and will likely test products at home. While omnichannel store fulfillment is a process in place of fulfillment centers, stores are not high-velocity purpose-built fulfillment centers, so there must be a balance based on consumer preferences.

Preparing for Peaks in Demand 

As things return to some type of normalcy, the fear that drove consumers to clean out stores and push items to go out of stock for weeks will begin to fade away. But the big question is, what’s next? 

The panic buying phase of the pandemic proved the unpredictability of consumer behavior. Consumers are now more comfortable with shopping online and are continuing to exhibit bulk-buying tendencies. These new habits are straining current systems as retailers rush to deliver on promises. Retailers need to prepare for the unexpected, with back-to-school and holiday shopping right around the corner. 

Shoppers will likely place orders earlier than ever before for this holiday season given shipping delays caused by the pandemic. Online ordering, BOPAC, and BOPIS will pull more share from brick-and-mortar sales than ever before. These changes mean that retailers need to start preparing now for peak season, developing a plan for seamless delivery even during unprecedented spikes in order volume. 

Investing in a powerful order management system is essential to scaling on demand. This technology helps retailers develop better inventory visibility, order orchestration, and the logistical order routing needed to pivot when unforeseen circumstances arise. It can also help with reconfiguring routing rules to allocating products to locations that have been less impacted by government mandates or labor shortages. Though the technology itself is very important, retailers should also consider working with a provider who has a deep understanding of inventory best practices and operations that can act as a guide. As retailers prepare for this year’s holiday shopping season, implementing a holistic order management strategy will be essential for the bottom-line. 

Building a Holistic Customer Experience 

There’s no way to 100% predict what the future holds for retail or how consumer behavior will evolve. Therefore, as retailers implement new omnichannel strategies, they need to rethink the entire customer experience.

Now that social distancing is part of the “new normal,” retailers can expect customers and employees to seek common ground with each other as a part of the experience. Rapport building across channels is always critical, however in times like these, it contributes to ease of experience (a known customer satisfaction driver). It’s critical that employees are coached to maintain professional conversations and know how to tailor an approach to individual shoppers while utilizing the technologies that make this easier.

As consumers navigate their own levels of uncertainty, a uniform shopping experience may be one of their few constant variables, and they’ll expect the same experience and efficiency regardless of channel. Equipping customer care agents with tools needed to construct a 360-degree view of the customer will help in building a satisfactory customer experience. Agents need the ability to recognize customers as loyalty members and provide personalized service. This personalized experience not only enhances loyalty but also drives additional revenue for retailers. Omnichannel technology that connects shopper touchpoints across channels is the key to making this happen. 

Retailers who embrace omnichannel strategies and are flexible in their fulfillment offerings will be able to capitalize on this year’s holiday shopping season and beyond. Brands should remember that even in a post-Covid-19 world, consumer preferences drive strategy. By offering multiple purchasing channels, consumers can follow the path to purchase they prefer. Whether it’s BOPIS or online ordering, consumers are still looking to shop, they just need a variety of options. 

Sean Seraphin is Senior Director of Omnichannel at Radial.

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