How COVID-19 is Accelerating Retail’s Transformation ... and What That Means for Brands
After a year of social distancing, quarantines, and Zoom calls, it's no wonder people are yearning for human contact and physical experiences more than ever. In fact, 25 percent of online shoppers agree that online shopping is less satisfying than visiting a brick-and-mortar store, according to Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer.
However, the brands that thrive moving forward will provide a different sort of retail experience than the ones we saw pre-COVID. They will also understand that although there's pent-up demand for in-person shopping, e-commerce isn't going away. Here’s what we can expect.
Intentional 'Reopening' Strategies
Spring 2021 is a new beginning for many. Vaccine distribution is revving up across the country, states are relaxing COVID-related restrictions, and people are ready to live life again. Retailers should see this as a time to reflect, change, and launch intentional “reopening” strategies — even if they stayed open during the pandemic — that signal to customers, and employees, that they're committed to providing safe, engaging experiences and are excited for what lies ahead. This could mean using purposeful messaging; debuting new products, capabilities and digital integrations in-store; and training employees to go above-and-beyond with service and personalized support so customers feel valued and energized by the brand’s palpable delight to be connecting in-person again.
Leaning Into the Unique Advantages of Brick-and-Mortar
People’s comfort level with online shopping has rapidly advanced due to the pandemic. According to McKinsey Research, 60 percent of shoppers who tried a new behavior during the pandemic plan to continue with it post-crisis. So, why is someone going to leave the comfort of the couch to shop in person? The brands that fared the best last year were addressing that question even before the pandemic. Glossier opened its first retail location in 2016, enabling shoppers to sample and buy products that were sold out online and snap selfies against the store’s “Instagrammable” background. (Glossier has since closed retail locations due to the pandemic, but it’s currently “hard at work reimagining the future of in-person experiences.”) In the fall of 2020, Levi’s announced it would open more NextGen stores with “Tailor Shops” offering repairs, tailoring, and customization options like stenciling and embroidery. Before you customize a pair of jeans, you want to try them on: Levi’s has created a reason for its customers to come to the store.
Data-Driven Decision Making and Digital Everything
While category leaders already had data-driven strategies in place, the pandemic has been a catalyst for retailers to deploy systems for collecting, understanding and activating customer data. Moving forward, brands will be more intentional about their marketing, leveraging data to determine where they reach and connect with their customers, and what they should promote when they do. They will look to connect customers’ online and offline behavior and empower store reps with easy access to customer profiles. They will also use digital signage that allows retailers to update messaging on a local level. Levi’s NextGen stores, for example, use digital signage throughout to inform shoppers of available fits and sizes. You can also expect more “phygital” experiences that blend digital and physical elements, like Love, Bonito’s augmented reality (AR)-enabled walkway at its store in Singapore, and Nike’s in-store activation that simulates an outdoor expedition using guests’ mobile phones, AR and QR codes.
The Customer is the Channel
The pandemic showed us just how quickly shopping preferences can change. Retailers need to be flexible and keep the customer at the center of everything they do. Curbside pickup and buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) options are here to stay because they're safe, but also convenient. Just as customers move seamlessly from the online world to the physical, they expect retailers to do the same. Therefore, look for a continued emphasis on cohesive, omnichannel strategies, and an increased willingness to pivot.
Spring means new beginnings and new opportunities. This is a chance for brands to reconnect with customers in new ways, to put their best foot forward, and to show shoppers they're ready to meet them wherever and however they prefer to shop.
Jaime Bettencourt is the senior vice president at Mood Media, a company that provides on-premise media solutions to help you connect with your customers, enhance your brand image and grow your business.
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Jaime Bettencourt is an accomplished senior-level sales and marketing leader with a proven ability to achieve double-digit revenue growth, recognized for designing world-class customer experiences for leading lifestyle and retail brands. She has a robust track record for leading teams and leveraging custom, complex in-store marketing, media and technology solutions for Fortune 500 clients in the retail space. Throughout Jaime’s 20 years at Mood Media, she’s been in various marketing, branding and sales leadership roles and has worked with global organizations to enhance in-store experiences through targeted brand initiatives and marketing strategies supported by customer insights and analytics. With expertise in managing portfolios of enterprise and mid-market clients, growth strategy, fostering c-level decision maker relationships, and designing profitability metrics and sales leadership, Jaime has developed into a true powerhouse.
Jaime recently led a hugely attended panel at SXSW Interactive 2018 about the Future of Physical Retail in a Post-Digital World, which also featured major brands like Under Armour and Kendra Scott. She has also been a speaker and moderator for leading retail industry engagements, including at the 2017 Future Stores conference, the 2016-2018 Interactive Customer Experience Summits, Connecting Point events (StorePoint, FashionPoint & NextPoint), and the 2015 Wearable Technology UX Conference. She is regularly featured as a thought leader on retail customer experience in publications including Women’s Wear Daily, CMO.com, Chief Marketer, Quartz, STORES Magazine, Forbes and Adweek to name a few.
She is also an incoming Fashion Retail Board Member within the Connecting Point Marketing Group, and has won awards for her work partnering with designers on global events.