5 Tips To Build a Post-COVID-19 Retail Strategy

a person standing in front of a store

Retailers have spent the past few months putting out fires, with no extra time to plan for the future. As physical stores reopen, here are five things to help you refocus your strategy and stay ready for anything.  

1. Find Your Silver Lining

After every storm there’s a rainbow. Although COVID wreaked havoc on businesses, it’s important to not panic. Be sure you’re ready for your silver lining by revisiting product launches, campaigns and promotions with your merchandising, marketing, supply chain and commerce teams. This cross-functional planning exercise will reveal risks and opportunities, and allow teams time to pivot, plan and address them before it's too late.

Keep your eyes on the prize: this year’s holiday season. Owning the holidays comes in two forms. First, address your merchandising and supply chain, and second, audit your technology. Prioritizing wins here will ensure you’re well prepared for the near future and beyond.

2. Double Down

Budgets are tight, economic and societal factors are fluid, and there is no margin of error for operational mistakes within retailers’ control. But what about the future? As retailers begin to develop more thought-out survival strategies, retailers should choose a "new normal plus" mindset (doubling down on ecommerce and innovation). Below are a few places to prioritize in digital innovation over the next year.

3. If They Can’t Find It, They Can’t Buy It 

A study from Baymard found that among 60 top-grossing U.S. and European e-commerce sites in late-2019, 61% of sites require their users to search by the exact same product type jargon the site uses.

For example, if a customer searches for “hair dryer” and the product catalogue only includes “blow dryer” (same item, different name), then your customer gets dumped onto the dreaded “no results” page.

Don’t send your customers to the competition. Upgrade your product discovery platform, including search, browse and recommendations, to help your customers find what they’re looking for. Recent developments in advanced search algorithms can predict customer intent and capture and interpret feedback loops of user signals; machine learning can automatically improve the search and browse experience to unburden your IT department.

4. Omnichannel Equals More Options

Omnichannel comes in many forms: BOPIS, STS, SFS, CPU. The most popular version today is curbside pickup (CPU). This solution is a triple threat: leverage your stores as distribution points, reduce freight expenses, and impress your customers with instant gratification. Brands like Guitar Center quickly doubled down on CPU to keep their customers happy, move store and warehouse inventory, and make sure sales were still rolling in while shopping as we know it was on hold.

5. Chat Up Your Customers

When stores had to close due to COVID, Restoration Hardware turned to chatbots to support their shoppers. Designers were standing by to help with design services, material selection and product questions. Unfortunately, not every retailer has the personnel to power this. Instead, consider investing in chatbot enhancers that use natural language processing (NLP) and AI to support customers. Smart chatbots can help customers help themselves, while relieving call centers and cutting support costs.

All things considered, it's not realistic to tackle everything before the end of the year. Identify your priorities and double down. The next 12 months will be full of curveballs and if you can pivot at a moment's notice you’ll be at the front of the pack.

Garrett Schwegler is digital commerce program manager at Lucidworks.

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