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Four ways retailers can support shoppers’ needs

A massive spike in demand for groceries and other household essentials sits alongside concerns about safety from both retail customers and employees.

Retailers are responding with agility and resilience as they navigate dramatic shifts in category preferences, channel preferences and consumer shopping behaviour. Here’s what retailers can do to address the challenges and build trust in the new normal of retail.

Improve merchandise agility and visibility

Shoppers have cleared store shelves of hand sanitiser, bottled water and toilet paper; bread and canned goods have been scarce; and consumers have stocked up on cleaning supplies, medications, personal care items and food to prepare for whatever may come next

Consider the following best practices to address sudden, unexpected shifts in product preferences:

  • Ramp up efforts to replenish. As stockroom inventory dwindles, stores seek to bring in more product as fast as possible. In the US, Costco CFO Richard Galanti said the procurement team was, “working, in some cases, around the clock to procure supplies”.
  • Ensure every shopper has access to essentials. Some retailers have implemented purchase limits on high-demand items, from paper products to canned goods to baby supplies. Price gouging is another threat, and Amazon is cracking down on sellers setting outrageous price points for high-need items.
  • Refactor manufacturing and supply chain. Cue has taken advantage of its scale, leverage and agility to repurpose local manufacturing – creating hospital scrubs instead of dresses, while Carlton & United Breweries has entered the hand sanitiser market.
  • Communicate your efforts to shoppers. Retailers added notices to their websites, or to their doors, to reassure customers supplies would continue to arrive and to explain any other new policies, such as prioritisation of essential shipments over less-necessary items.

Adopt contactless engagement

As shoppers try to stay home, demand for delivery has skyrocketed, and generations traditionally not used to shopping this way are also getting on board.

Expand contactless payment and delivery services as well as other ways for shoppers to get groceries or other essentials without having to navigate store aisles or come into close contact with people.

  • Provide contactless payment. Coles and Woolworths increased tap and go limits to $200, and more for digital wallets.
  • Offer more delivery options. Woolworths expanded delivery hours, Mecca made delivery free, Target and Big W lowered their ‘free delivery’ minimum spend. All have removed the need for signatures on delivery, instead promising contactless delivery. 7 Eleven has launched a delivery service in Melbourne, with plans to extend this interstate in coming months. 
  • Accelerate Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPIS). Shoppers who need items fast can see if they are available in a nearby store, claim them and pay online, then pick up the items instead of waiting for delivery. This eliminates in-person visits to multiple stores in search of a hard-to-find items and unnecessary contact at the store. Shoppers simply walk in and pick up their orders or can even take advantage of delivery to the car.
  • Update customers on new options. Clearly communicate available services, changes to them and the reasons for changes.

Ensure shopper and employee safety

  • Specific shopping times for the elderly or immunocompromised. Welcome these individuals when the store first opens in the morning, when it is cleanest and fully stocked.
  • Implement safety protocols. Limit the number of people in the store at one time and instruct shoppers to remain at least 1.5m apart. Some stores have put tape on the ground to mark where shoppers should stand while waiting to enter or check out. 
  • Step up cleaning efforts. Modify open hours to facilitate regular deep cleaning. Install hand sanitiser dispensers throughout the store, and encourage shoppers and employees to use them.

Respond with empathy and creativity

Grocery and pharmacy workers, as well as warehouse workers put their health on the line. Leaders can support them in multiple ways:

  • Increase compensation. Acknowledge casuals’ hard work and commitment with a tangible raise in pay.
  • Prioritise worker health and safety. Increase the cleaning cadence for warehouses and other workspaces, and provide protective equipment if possible. Bolster leave policies to encourage sick workers to stay home and fully recover. 
  • Be transparent as your response evolves. Establish a crisis strategy and craft templates for communications. Share changes in policy to all stakeholders and encourage feedback.
  • Pledge no one will be stood down. If you can, give employees peace of mind by committing to no reductions in your workforce for 90 days, for salaried and casual employees alike, to show dedication to your workers. 

Next steps and resources

These are challenging times for the retail industry. While digital has seen very healthy growth this quarter, it won’t come close to offsetting the seismic drop in physical foot traffic. But those leaders who adapted quickly to the challenges created by the health crisis are attracting new customers and cementing lifelong relationships.

For more advice and expert how-tos for leading your businesses or team through COVID-19, check out the ‘Leading through Change’ series.

Rob Garf

Rob Garf is VP and GM, Retail and the Chair of the Client Advisory Board for Retail at Salesforce. With 25 years of global retail experience as a practitioner (Lids, Marshalls, Hit or Miss), an industry analyst (AMR Research), a strategy consultant (IBM), and a software leader (Salesforce), he is no stranger to the industry and the challenges retailers face. His team currently develops industry research and advises senior executives globally on unified engagement strategies. Rob is also a frequent industry speaker and a member of NRF’s Digital Council.  

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