Top 4 Post-COVID Retail Pivots

Strategic pivots
Strategic pivots can make the difference between success and failure

As we are in the middle of the second wave of COVID (or maybe a resurgent first wave), it has become clear that life will not return to “normal” any time soon. For small businesses like retail stores, it is especially important to be able to implement strategic pivots. If you keep running your business as you always have, you are likely to run into trouble.

1. Safety First

Of course, your customers (and employees) will be concerned with safety so you need to change up the way you accommodate safety concerns. See 10 Ways to Make Customers Feel Comfortable Returning to Your Business Post-COVID.

2. Take It Up a Notch

When heading out of the house to visit your business carries a risk, you need to make it more compelling for customers to do so by implementing experience pivots. This may entail holding unique events at your location that customers cannot experience at home or making the in-store experience extraordinary in other ways.

For example, when movie theatres encountered competitive pressure from home streaming, some chains pivoted to invest in extra comfortable reclining chairs and premium food and beverage offerings. This made the movie theatre experience better than most people have at home.

You can also do an experience pivot by turning shopping into an immersive sensory experience through displays, scent, textures and food.

3. The Personal Touch

Similarly, when Best Buy was fighting a losing battle with Amazon, they created a program where they offered consumers free in-store advice about the best products to meet their needs and how they should be installed. Rather than a sales-oriented approach, the pivot was to be more consultative. Low pressure and free advice brought foot traffic, which turned into eventual sales. A consultative approach works particularly well with complex or high-ticket items and relies on the advisor being both knowledgeable and low key.

You can extend personal touch pivots to online marketing as well. If you have been collecting data on your customers’ shopping and browsing habits, kudos! Use this data to make suggestions for new products based on their taste and needs. For example, if a customer purchased a tackle box from you in the past, you can send him an email suggesting a cooler or pointing out a fishing rod that is on sale.

Facebook advertising is an easy way to implement this as well, since your pixel will show you which pages prospects visit and FB enables you to retarget them with relevant ads. Here’s an idea to A/B test: an ad for a complementary product vs. a link to a video testimonial about the product they looked at but didn’t buy.

4. Create Communities

Does your store or products have a loyal following? Do a community pivot by creating user/shopper communities through clubs, events, online forums and social media. Feature your customers and provide a place for them to interact with each other, post photos and videos and answer questions. Then you can point new potential customers to your community and let your existing customers become your brand ambassadors, aka salespeople.

Use this user-generated content on your website and social profiles too. See Starbucks’ White Cup Contest for an example of user-generated content. Seeing this not only gives new potential customers social proof that your store and products are good, but it makes them feel like they are a part of something bigger.

For more ideas, see Forbes’ article on being customer-centric. At Pro Creative, we believe marketing is all about being customer-centric. Contact us to find out what that looks like for your business.

10 Ways to Make Customers Comfortable Returning to Your Business Post-COVID

make customers feel comfortable returning to your business

There’s no doubt that COVID has radically, and perhaps permanently changed the way consumers behave. The biggest change is, understandably, their reluctance to be close to others and touching things that others have touched. So, now with many states reopening businesses, can you make customers comfortable returning to your business?

Morning Consult did some research to find out, asking 2,200 consumers as well as companies, business experts and medical professionals. Here’s what they found.

1. Regularly sanitizing high touch surfaces

This was the number one safety measure that made a difference in consumers’ minds with 55% saying it made them much more comfortable and 26% somewhat more comfortable for a grand total of 81%. Sanitizing minimizes the spread from objects to people, one of the two ways medical experts say COVID-19 is transmitted.

Consider posting signs with your cleaning schedule. For example, if you use shopping carts, you can post a sign saying “Shopping carts are sanitized immediately after being returned to the front of the store.” Do you use a disinfectant fogger? Post a sign that lets customers know how often you disinfect with the fogger and how long each application works to kill viruses. Customers also feel comfortable when they see store employees actively sanitizing surfaces.

2. Installing more hand sanitizer dispensers

More than three-quarters of US adults (77%) said that installing more hand sanitizer dispensers would make them feel more comfortable. While medical experts say this plays a relatively small part in reducing transmission, it is easy and affordable to implement. Hand sanitizer dispensers cost about $130, and hand mounted units are less. Commercial refills cost around $50.

3. Allowing fewer customers in a space at the same time

Seven in ten consumers want smaller overall density in stores and other spaces. Businesses will need to know how long the average customer spends at their location and average revenue per customer. Then you need to balance these numbers with how many people can safely be in your store at the same time. Keep in mind, you may need to increase your prices to stay profitable with reduced customer volume.

According to FEMA, maintaining a six-foot radius around each person means one person per 113 square feet. Take your business’ total square footage and divide it by 113 to calculate how many people (including employees) can safely share the space.

4. Dedicated hours for elderly and other vulnerable customers

Almost seven in ten Americans (69%) said they would like dedicated hours for the most vulnerable customers including the elderly and immunocompromised people. Businesses selling high ticket products like jewelry stores can operate on an appointment basis. More one-on-one interaction with customers will result in better customer satisfaction, and possibly more sales. For lower margin businesses, consider extending your hours to reduce crowding and rearrange staffing accordingly.

5. Spacing seating 6 feet apart for social distancing

Nearly two-thirds of consumers (62%) said that increased spacing between seating would make them feel more comfortable. While not every business has seating, you can also apply this to cashier lines and other places where customers gather. Movie theaters have roped off seats and even rows and gyms have made some machines off limits to create more space between patrons. Grocery stores have installed floor stickers telling people where to stand and making each aisle one-way so customers will have less possibility of encountering each other face-to-face.

6. Require all employees to wear masks

Sixty-one percent of consumers breathe a sigh of relief when a business’ employees are all wearing masks. And medical experts say it makes sense. After all, the mask is less to protect the wearer than others in the area in case the wearer is sick but asymptomatic. Although masks were in short supply at the beginning of the pandemic, supply has mostly caught up with demand, so this shouldn’t be a problem, whether you ask employees to bring their own or you supply them with masks.

7. Posting signage reminding people to social distance

Almost two-thirds of people surveyed said this inexpensive measure would make them feel better, another 25% said it wouldn’t make any difference. Still, it costs little to put into practice so it is worth the effort. Remember, social distancing means fewer customers at a time, so see #3 above to make sure you have enough customers and sales to stay profitable.

8. Requiring all customers to wear masks

While 63% said that signage requiring all customers to wear masks would make them feel more comfortable, another 20% said it would make no difference. Keep in mind that this would really only be a suggestion or reminder.

While you can refuse to do business with anyone not wearing a mask, you might end up doing more harm than good. In some locations, customers angry at being told to put on a mask have even brandished guns or become violent.

9. Providing to-go options for restaurants

Six in ten customers are looking for restaurants that offer pre-packaged or takeout options rather than (or in addition to) dine-in. Think about pre-packaging your most popular dishes where customers can just grab them from a refrigerated case. You might also want to rethink your walk-in takeout process to avoid customers clustering as they wait to place their orders. Options include online ordering with pickup and directing customers to a spaced single file line to order with belt stanchions.

signage can make customers comfortable in line

10. Requiring temperature screening for all customers

Although 57% of respondents thought temperature screening would make them feel safer, 30% were neutral and 13% said it would make them feel less safe.

This intervention has a lot of downsides, including being intrusive, expensive and labor intensive. Thermal imaging units cost between $2,000 and $40,000. It also only would identify people who are well into the symptoms, not asymptomic or pre-symptomic people who can also be contagious. On the plus side, it would act as a deterrent for sick people to go out.

Addressing customer fears with safety measures make customers comfortable shopping with you, so it’s a win-win.

Looking for other ways to get your small business back on its feet? Contact Pro Creative for custom, research-based creative strategies to get profitable and thrive in the new normal.

Formula for Long-term Success

vision for long-term success

What makes a thriving business, a business with long-term success, a business you can pass down to your kids?

Even many businesses that are successful at first tend to lose that success as time goes on. In 1920, the average life span of a business was 67 years. This dropped to 15 in 2015 and is now down to 4 years. Top experts in major brands, ad agencies, business schools academia, technology and consultancies were asked what goes into long-term success and here’s what they said.

The Most Important Characteristic of a Successful Business

Nearly all of the experts surveyed said that speed and agility are the most important characteristic of a business that will be successful in the next 15 years. However, one outlier made a seemingly contradictory point.

Risk aversion and short-termism rule in the world’s board rooms. This attitude is entirely understandable. And entirely wrong.

Sir Martin Sorrell, S4 Capital

Although they look like opposites, the most successful companies are able to be both agile and focused on the long-term. How can this be?

It All Starts with a Purpose

You, the business owner, need to sit down and think about the purpose of your business. It should go beyond the idea of making money, and beyond being the biggest or best in your industry. It may help if you think about why you started the business in the first place. Here are some examples from well-known companies to get you started.

  • Patagonia – “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
  • Amazon – “Our vision is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.”
  • Pedigree – “Everything we do is for the love of dogs.”
  • Nike – “To experience the emotion of competition, winning and crushing competitors.”
  • Wal-Mart – “To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people.”
  • Disney – “To make people happy.”

The main job of the founder, owner and top executives is to infuse this purpose into everything that the company does strategically and into its people. The purpose gives the company a direction to go in to achieve long-term success.

What About Agility?

The agility is achieved by the people in the organization. Research shows that companies that are organized in a very hierarchical way are slow to react to market forces and therefore tend to fall behind their more nimble competitors. A flat organizational structure gives individual employees the agency to notice changes in the market, come up with solutions and confidently present those solutions to the executives.

A Word of Caution

Just to be clear, being agile is not the same as being distracted or panicked by every shiny new social network or trend. Being agile means being tuned into underlying customer needs and market forces. This includes new competitors or products, technology and economic issues. The company needs to ready to respond strategically, then tactically.

The two aspects, long-term vision and on-the-ground agility come together when senior management consistently reinforces its vision and then gives employees free rein to react as needed within that vision. This combination leads to the company’s long-term success as well as short-term gains. For marketing, this means that the ratio between brand building and short-term initiatives should be somewhere around 70/30.

Be sure to communicate your vision through both word and action to your employees but also through your marketing communication. Your vision is not only a motivator for your staff but also should be universal and compelling enough to motivate potential customers to do business with you.

Pro Creative can help you formulate and communicate a compelling vision or purpose both internally and externally. In times of upheaval, this shift may be what puts your company on the road to long-term success.