10 retail priorities for navigating the coronavirus era

David Orgel
Principal, David Orgel Consulting

Just when you thought you’d seen everything.

The coronavirus has changed life for everyone, and retailers are well aware of how their businesses are being transformed. They are not only stepping up to the plate, but also benefiting from expert guidance from industry organizations, government and others.

However, the new normal will have long-term impacts beyond the present crisis. It’s useful to spend some time examining the big picture, and maybe even developing a statement on how to proceed in a crisis like this. Here are 10 ways retailers can benefit from lessons learned so far to improve their strategies, now and in the future.

1. Be the trust builder: Retailers have been focused on building transparency and trust for a while, and this is an opportunity to accomplish it in real time. Communicating actions being taken to keep customers and employees safe will create a long-term halo for retail businesses

2. Show empathy and unexpected generosity: Consumers in a crisis worry not just about their health, but also their economic well-being. I was genuinely touched to receive a bank email that raised the topic of temporary waivers on monthly service fees. That’s the kind of tone and empathy that will win long-term friends.

3. Be the community partner: Many retailers have long strived to be closely connected to their communities. A crisis like the coronavirus requires new ways of defining community support. In the short-term future, it’s about helping community members get supplies they need. Down the road, it’s about helping to repair damage caused by the crisis.

4. Engage with consumers in their homes: An emergency situation that requires consumers to stay home demands nontraditional messaging and marketing. Perhaps it can be simple cooking or health tips, updates on store hours, or available windows for deliveries and click-and-collect pickups. All communication needs to leverage a wide range of digital platforms, from email to social media.

5. Treat employees as champions: Retailers need to keep associates fully on their teams during a crisis. Employees should be kept in the loop and be involved in decision-making. Retailers need to get employee opinions and buy-in, and keep tabs on how associates are doing and on what they need. 

6. Prioritize partners: Success in navigating a crisis relies on being closely in touch with suppliers, government and a wide range of industry partners. This is not a time to be worried about overcommunicating.

7. Embrace the tele world: Face-to-face communications give way to virtual interactions in the midst of a crisis like the coronavirus. This signals the need to raise the ability to communicate through digital platforms with consumers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Any capabilities gained will be highly useful in the future.

8. Consider implications for tech, supply chain: It’s important to identify how advanced technologies can jump-start preparations for a future crisis. And how can supply chains adapt to improve inventory availability?

9. Don’t drop everything else: Being in crisis mode doesn’t mean forgetting about all other business initiatives. At some point, the emergency is reduced and retailers need to be ready to move forward on other goals. Customers won’t be hibernating forever and will exhibit pent-up demand for other needs.

10. Fine-tune your niche: Consider lessons learned during a crisis that will help fine-tune retail niches within marketplaces. Every person and business will emerge changed to some degree. How does each business need to adapt to make certain it maintains and grows relevance?

Retailers will need to adapt this list for their own businesses. The focus on learning lessons and doing the right things will have lasting benefits. 

About the Author

David Orgel

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries.

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