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04/08/2020

Coronavirus Response: Best Practices Emerge for Retail

The urgent question among retailers today is, who’s doing it right? Fortunately, best practices for responding to the pandemic are emerging. Here’s a smart, targeted list.

What we are seeing in the marketplace today is unprecedented. Retailers are making profound changes to the shopping experience and back-end business without a playbook. They are turning on a dime and doing things they have never contemplated in their wildest imaginations.

And they are doing them in real time, making things up as they go, launching game-changing initiatives day after day.

Best Practices Are Emerging

With so much happening so fast, keeping up with the speed of change and flood of information has become an essential and time-consuming task.

The best resource for a comprehensive list of dozens of fresh stories about retailer responses to the pandemic is in the Coronavirus Retail News section of the RIS website.

Beyond the latest news, retailers also need insightful analysis about what to do next. Here is a smart, practical list of emerging best practices based on an aggregation of the latest trends emerging in the marketplace:

  • Altruism is a dominant trend and strikes the best possible note about working for the common good. Aside from Jack Dorsey pledging to give away $1 billion to support work that deals with the pandemic and winning the give-away competition, others pledging to donate millions include: Walmart ($25 million), Lowe’s ($25 million), Amazon ($20 million), Ralph Lauren ($10 million), Target ($10 million), Ahold Delhaize ($10 million), and Kroger ($3 million). Many other retailers are pledging to match donations made by shoppers and donating face masks, sanitizing supplies, ventilators, sending meals to healthcare responders (Stop & Shop), and donating rubber shoes (Crocs) to healthcare workers.
  • Reinvent stores to ensure social distancing and health safety, such as contactless POS (Publix), install handwashing stations to protect staff and customers (Chick-fil-A), limit in-store traffic by counting customers and admitting one at a time, create one-way aisles, record the temperature of associates prior to each shift (Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot), reduce store hours to improve restocking and sanitation, prohibit shoppers from bringing reusable bags, designate special hours for at-risk population groups, stop accepting returns, only permit one-person-per-cart, supercharge BOPIS and home delivery, install plexiglass shields at checkout, and, of course, prioritize cleaning of premises and hand-washing.
  • In a time of massive layoffs and hyper hiring, many retailers are showing compassion for workers, such as increasing wages and offering staff bonuses (Target, Walmart, Lowe’s) and providing extra paid sick leave (Lowe’s), paying employees for lost wages while stores are closed (Nordstrom, J.Crew, Levi's) and closing for Easter to give employees a break (Lowe’s).

What Tech Vendors Can Do

Just as retailers are taking steps to help customers in a time of crisis, tech vendors can also help customers, i.e. retailers. Responding to the crisis, many vendors are dedicating resources to accelerate implementations, waiving upfront fees, providing free usage of SaaS applications for a limited time, and offering free portfolio assessments.

Some tech companies are devising plans to help retailers fill in software gaps during a time of crisis with a “try before you buy” approach, according to Clay Parnell, president and managing partner at The Parker Avery Group.

Parnell recommends that tech vendors include the following concepts: providing a bucket of “complementary hours” to existing customers, discounting service offerings, deferred billing, offering free trials, suspending or reducing subscription costs for cloud applications or platforms, providing crisis and post-crisis change-management roadmaps, and simply “helping out where needed most.”

Regarding the last point, Parnell suggests retailers should not hesitate to reach out to tech vendors "for assistance, with the assumption that no tech or consulting partner in this current period is thinking they will be hitting their revenue/utilization targets anyway and they may be more than willing to help. If nothing else, have a conversation. It will allow you to step away from the fray for a few minutes and may lead to a new idea, a potential solution, or some unexpected help.”

More Blog Posts In This Series

  • Social Justice Plays a Growing Role in Retail

    Protests over mass shootings, attacks on Asian and Black Americans, and lack of diversity have roiled the retail landscape. In response, retailers are pledging action. Will shoppers buy it?
  • Why Retailers Are Learning to Love Robots

    The pandemic lit a fire under retailers to expand the use of robotics, but COVID-19 is not the only accelerant. Advancements in AI, computer vision and sensing systems are also boosting bots. The age of COVID-19 put a premium on processes that protect customers and associates.
  • Rethinking the Post-Pandemic “Store of the Future”

    Attempts to create a “store of the future” are littered with failure due to gimmicky concepts that over-promised and under-delivered. Here are concepts that change the rules and work.