The COVID-19 crisis may have hit retailers hard, but it isn’t all gloom and doom. Many opportunities are emerging for retailers to connect with customers, and to reimagine their business models.

We explored some of these trends in a recent webinar on “How to Optimise Retail Operations in Times of Crisis,” led by James Johnson, Director, Industry Strategy - Retail and Consumer Goods, and Sridhar Hari, Director - Solution Engineering.

During the session, we examined the three stages of COVID-19 recovery that retailers are likely to navigate – stabilisation, normalisation, and acceleration. We also looked at brands that are reinventing themselves in inspiring ways at this time.


1. Ecommerce – and online engagement – is on the rise

With consumers confined to their homes, online shopping—particularly for essentials—has surged. In India, 55% of shoppers are now more frequently purchasing food and groceries online rather than in-store.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that every retailer has to have an online store. Our research indicates that successful retail is no longer about pulling shoppers to your property—be it digital or physical. Instead, it’s about meeting customers “at the edge” i.e., wherever they spend their time – whether it’s on social media, voice platforms like Alexa, or even gaming consoles.

Taking this idea to heart is Amul, India’s largest dairy company. During the lockdown, when many Indians reverted to home-cooking, the company began live cooking sessions on Facebook to demonstrate simple home-made recipes.

Measures like these enable brands to stay connected and relevant to consumers even during a crisis.


2. Online-offline integration is becoming crucial

Your business may be selling a product that consumers want. But how will that product actually reach your customers, especially when many of them are hesitant to venture out of their homes? This is where online-offline integration matters.

Food products company, iD Fresh Food has launched an online store finder where customers can search for local physical stores that stock iD products. They can also sign up to receive alerts when fresh products arrive. This way, they can plan their store visits to maximise the likelihood that the iD products they need will be available.


3. New categories of ‘essentials’ are emerging

While customer spending on non-essential items has dropped, purchases of groceries, food supplies, and hygiene products have soared. Online grocers BigBasket and Grofers, both saw the demand for groceries rise by three to five times at the beginning of April.

Meanwhile, certain products, that may not have traditionally been classified as essentials, are becoming increasingly important. Smart phones, for instance, are critical for people to stay connected during the lockdown. Pet stores and home appliance shops are also in demand.

For retailers in these categories, the future looks promising. For others, this might be a chance to consider diversifying into new product areas that customers will need and want over the next six to twelve months.


4. Proactive communication makes all the difference

Your physical retail stores may be closed, but you can still keep communication lines with customers open. The key is to maintain clarity, honesty, and transparency in your messaging.

Find ways to reassure customers about store closures, in-store safety measures, operating hours, supply shortages, and other key information. Be upfront about potential delays in order fulfilment. Publish FAQs covering key customer questions such as how to contact customer support, or how to return items during the pandemic.

Also, humanise communications. Offer customers helpful resources to let them know that they’re not alone in this crisis. Finally, demonstrate that you care. Cosmetics giant, L’Oréal, did just that when it announced that it would donate over 60,000 litres of hand sanitiser to India’s public health institutions, police forces, and NGOs at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight.


Preparing for the future

If there’s one lesson that has emerged in this crisis, it’s about the importance of being prepared for anything. Retailers that are able to anticipate and respond quickly to the changes happening around them will be the ones to watch.


How can Salesforce help?

During this crisis, we’re committed to helping our retail customers thrive. We can enable you to:

  • Deliver a frictionless online experience to your end-customer
  • Provide delightful customer service
  • Launch hyper-personalised marketing
  • Improve supply chain visibility for better fulfilment

Our B2B Commerce Cloud can help you streamline communications across your supply chain, so that you can respond better to fast-changing supply-demand patterns. You can also track orders or delays more closely, and keep customers informed.

We recently launched a new ecommerce solution for D2C (direct-to-consumer) and essential goods companies that don’t already have a digital store. If you’re one of these companies, our Quick Start commerce offering can help you set up an online presence, and begin selling in as little as two weeks.

Want to learn more?

Listen to our webinar on “How to Optimise Retail Operations in Times of Crisis.”