As coronavirus maintains its hold on us, we’ve continued to hear words and phrases like “uncharted waters,” “unpredictable,” and “uncertain.” A recent Gartner poll revealed that 34 percent of businesses expect reduced levels of business operations due to COVID-19, and the retail industry is no exception. Sales were down 8.7 percent in March per the US Census Bureau, and it’s predicted that April’s decline will be steeper.
Before operations start resembling some sense of normalcy, things may become more difficult. While there’s no guidebook for this situation, there are a few strategies retailers can implement to soften the blow.
Establish a Process and Plan for Future Crises
Businesses of all sizes should have a continuity plan to make current and future crises easier to weather. If you still don’t have a plan in place, it isn’t too late. There are plenty of free templates available. Just be sure to include resources to deliver product both internally and externally, identify risks that are still to come, and assign a dedicated task force. By creating a process with a team, your response will be more thoughtful and efficient.
Be Transparent and Communicate Clearly
Recent Sprout Social research shows 86 percent of Americans believe transparency is more important than ever before; 90 percent are willing to give brands a second chance after a bad experience if the brand’s transparent. Even outside of a crisis situation, transparency helps fuel customer trust and loyalty. Therefore, being transparent with customers now will pay dividends in the long run.
Lean into email and social communications to describe steps your company is taking to mitigate any product delays and, more importantly, potential risks to customer and employee health. This includes how you’re supporting warehouse workers and the cleanliness standards maintained in facilities to protect against any potential contamination to both workers and customers.
At Jane, we serve both consumers and the brands that sell on our platform, and the same principle applies. Our merchandising team has been connecting sellers with shipping and product resources so they can continue to operate. We’re also working closely with sellers to help them promote products that we know customers want or need, and are reaching out to those who are experiencing difficulties. This includes relaxing our inventory and shipping criteria to help businesses continue to function, and also communicating to consumers that there may be delays with shipments.
Rethink Your Marketing Strategy
Retailers absolutely must continue to make changes to adapt to this new normal. With closures impacting production, inventory, delivery and demand, retailers should be thinking about how they can change their conversations and communications to reflect this.
Overall, there has been a shift toward content with a softer tone, acknowledging that people are stuck at home and encouraging a sense of togetherness. Old Navy posted a link on Facebook for users to download coloring pages, photos of customers at home, and information about how Gap Inc. is supporting essential workers through the pandemic.
Right now, it may come across as tasteless if you continue “business as usual” by pushing promotions about vacations, blazers, or date night. However, it might make more sense to promote pajamas or face masks for a relaxation night or “girls’ night in” Zoom party.
While we don’t yet know what the long-term impacts of this pandemic will be on the retail industry, I’m taking this as a learning experience in preparedness, quick-thinking, and being more comfortable with changing strategy. May will likely be another difficult month, but as people settle into this new reality, I’m confident that we can overcome this together and succeed on the other end of this trying time.
Mark Spencer is senior vice president, commercial operations at Jane, a curated online fashion marketplace.
Mark Spencer is Senior Vice President, Commercial Operations at Jane, a curated online fashion marketplace.
A seasoned senior executive, Mark Spencer has more than 20 years of commercial business development experience, including over a decade of working with and advising eCommerce platforms. Mark specializes in online marketplaces with specific emphasis on growth, commercial operations, and international expansion. Previously, Mark held leadership roles across Europe and North America at organizations such as HomeAway (Expedia) and Tripping.com and, more recently, was a founding executive for an online marketplace for HGTVs The Property Brothers in the US and Canada. Mark frequently advises marketplaces across North America and EMEA. Outside of the office, Mark is an avid traveler, loves anything sports-related, and enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and the family dog.