How Retailers Can Prepare For the ‘New Normal’ Post COVID-19

by Axel Heyenga

Posted on 05-27-2020

Retail has per­haps felt the impact of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic more keen­ly than any oth­er indus­try. With the major­i­ty of phys­i­cal out­lets shut­ter­ing their doors and many staff fur­loughed, brands are react­ing and adapt­ing to one of the most dis­rup­tive peri­ods many of us will ever experience.

While it may seem like there’s no such thing as ‘busi­ness-as-usu­al’, there are ways for retail­ers to adjust their oper­a­tions, keep cus­tomers and employ­ees hap­py, and per­haps set the stage for a new way of work­ing after the worst has passed.

Retail­ers using the pow­er for good

While long-term sta­bil­i­ty should absolute­ly be front-of-mind for every retail brand, many are using their capa­bil­i­ties and resources as a pow­er for good dur­ing these uncer­tain times.

Fash­ion brands like Pra­da and Burber­ry are using their fac­to­ries to man­u­fac­ture face­masks and hos­pi­tal gowns; LVMH is sup­port­ing French hos­pi­tal char­i­ty FHP-HF; and Unilever has con­tributed €100 mil­lion-worth of soap, sani­tis­er, bleach and food for nation­al health author­i­ties across the world.

The way retail­ers con­duct them­selves dur­ing this peri­od will not be quick­ly for­got­ten by cus­tomers. It’s impor­tant that brands don’t sim­ply sit back and wait for this storm to blow over – those that take proac­tive steps towards help­ing and sup­port­ing those in need will be remem­bered for the good they did.

Cus­tomer needs and expec­ta­tions are changing

Cus­tomers are crav­ing con­sci­en­tious and human con­nec­tions with brands, now more than ever – mean­ing that the data col­lect­ed by retail brands has tak­en on an even more crit­i­cal lev­el of importance.

Being able to iden­ti­fy the best oppor­tu­ni­ties to per­son­alise expe­ri­ences and make it easy for cus­tomer to take action is fast-becom­ing the most impor­tant tool avail­able to retail mar­keters dur­ing this time.

The ben­e­fits of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and machine learn­ing have been dis­cussed in detail for years now, the cur­rent cli­mate has shone the spot­light on their impor­tance in deliv­er­ing rel­e­vant and per­son­alised expe­ri­ences at scale.

While their names have, in the past, con­jured up images of face­less robots and imper­son­al inter­ac­tion, the ben­e­fits of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) and machine learn­ing (ML) have been dis­cussed. AI and ML will help large-scale com­pa­nies, espe­cial­ly, to adopt a more one-to-one, car­ing approach to the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, through iden­ti­fy­ing what is most valu­able to indi­vid­ual customers.

Dig­i­tal com­merce has nev­er been more important

Many cus­tomers are, under­stand­ably, treat­ing online plat­forms like Ama­zon as their one-stop shop for prod­ucts they’d oth­er­wise have vis­it­ed a store for.

This has high­light­ed the impor­tance of pos­sess­ing a robust and reli­able online com­merce plat­form; which can sup­port increased demand; cut out the so-called ‘mid­dle man’ (i.e. the big online plat­forms); and help brands go to mar­ket with new prod­ucts and ser­vices quick­ly and effectively.

It’s impor­tant for retail­ers to main­tain a mean­ing­ful local pres­ence, sup­port­ing local com­mu­ni­ties and those in need – and their pri­ma­ry busi­ness mod­el needs to adapt to one that’s online, and built on self-ser­vice or home delivery.

If retail brands can sup­port this mod­el across all poten­tial cus­tomer touch­points, with a mobile-first com­merce men­tal­i­ty front-of-mind, and enhanced pay­ment options (con­tact­less etc.), then they’re well on the road to mit­i­gat­ing the dis­rup­tive impact of the cur­rent lock­down limitations.

Flex­i­bil­i­ty and agili­ty is critical

The past few months have taught us that the need for flex­i­bil­i­ty and agili­ty is absolute­ly crit­i­cal. The dis­rup­tive nature of the cur­rent cli­mate is like­ly to result in a per­ma­nent step-change in how the retail indus­try operates.

This can be some­thing as sim­ple as the toyshop down the road from me (a small out­let with no dig­i­tal com­merce pres­ence) now using What­sApp to con­nect with local cus­tomers and take orders. Or, in the UK, pubs and restau­rants team­ing up with local green­gro­cers and butch­ers to deliv­er food pack­ages around the community.

This is, arguably, one of the most dif­fi­cult and dis­rup­tive times in liv­ing mem­o­ry, for all of us. But, it’s also brought out the best in human­i­ty, and busi­ness­es across the board have a respon­si­bil­i­ty and duty to be part of that good. Those who adopt a ready and will­ing atti­tude to not only help and sup­port, but also to inno­vate and change, have already tak­en their first step on the path to long-term sta­bil­i­ty and success.

As the sit­u­a­tion with COVID-19 quick­ly unfolds, Adobe is com­mit­ted to giv­ing you the sup­port and resources to nav­i­gate this chal­leng­ing time – learn more.

Topics: Commerce, artificial intelligence, Customer Experience, Digital Marketing, retail, UK, UK Exclusive, Digital EMEA