Rapid response measures
Guidance for businesses facing the impact of COVID-19
In living memory, there has never been anything quite like the turmoil that the current COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking on every aspect of our lives. Individually, our personal and social lives have been severely interrupted; our professional lives paused, diverted or given a new impetus depending on what we do for a living; our financial circumstances in many cases made suddenly precarious.
Depending on the sector they operate in, businesses are battling either a collapse in custom or huge spikes in demand; enforced closures and the challenges of quickly pivoting to remote digital operations; unrelenting pressure to protect their workforce; and supply chains put under huge pressure. At every turn, they seem bound by uncertainty, upheaval and panic, with many already counting a heavy cost.
While we may argue that the basic models and foundations of business still hold true, that’s of little comfort to the millions of companies globally trying to pivot their way to safety.
Yet, right now, it’s vital to look beyond the doom-mongering. And if you can, you’ll see there are clear, swift measures to take to help you navigate the challenges and seize key opportunities.
In the retail and commercial sectors, the closure of in-store operations has already sparked a sudden surge of interest in digital commerce. From the smallest corner shops to the biggest global brands, retailers are looking for ways to keep trading despite their doors being shut.
Are you experiencing... a hit on customer traffic?
Communication is key. Get on your communications channels and start talking to people. Think about how you want your brand to be perceived during these times and how you can best get that message across. Utilise all the options available to you – update your website regularly with useful and relevant COVID-19-related information, get active on social media, send texts, push notifications and emails out to your subscriber lists, set up extra phone lines or an IM chat platform so your customers can reach you. Be careful what you say though; emotions are running high and consumers are likely to be more sensitive to companies trying to sell or profit from the situation.
Social channels. Are you using social to help with customer support? If you’ve had to close stores, redeploying staff to be customer care advisors and using your social accounts to assist in managing customer queries/concerns is a good play. Expect a surge in contacts as customers have queries about pending orders and want to understand the situation – so ensure you have a team that can handle the digital dialogue in good time.
Retail therapy. A bit of online retail therapy will add some light relief for your customers, so entice them with promotions on something they are likely to want to buy. Don’t be exploitative – instead, be selective in what you’re promoting; there is very little experience or data to provide insight into what people look for at a time like this, so it really is over to you and your understanding of your customers. Alternatively, make the discount its own purpose – your gift to your customers to help brighten the mood. This could also be a good way to manage your stock, with sales falling short of targets.
Pivot and flex your spend. Now is the time to look at where you’re investing your money. Are you bidding on the right terms? Are your marketing campaigns still relevant and targeting the right channels? Adapt your spend to ensure your efforts (and money) are focused on the right places.
Are you experiencing... a drop in conversion, revenue or average order value (AOV)?
Make it relevant. Make sure your digital channels are prioritising what is likely to be most relevant for your customers at this time. You are probably going to need to rethink how you’re ranking products in pages, removing or demoting any out-of-stock products, promoting relevant content and highlighting the right categories within navigation. Homeware, gifting, loungewear, cosmetics and activewear are good examples of the kinds of categories you should be prioritising to help people through isolation. This is an opportunity to do the right thing for your business by doing what’s best for your customers.
Payment options. Financial concerns and uncertainty about what’s around the corner could be stopping people from buying. Offering multiple payment options, including a pay-later capability, might make them feel more comfortable about spending.
Recommendations. Your customers might still be shopping but buying less. Focus energy on making timely, relevant product recommendations to raise your volumes back up again. Take a look at adding content into the PDP (product details pages on your website) like product recommendations. Including inspirational and engaging content in PLPs (product listings/lister pages) and search results can offer your customers something they never have found on their own.
Delivery. Be clear and transparent about delivery options – what is and isn’t available. Think about extending returns periods while people are self-isolating and give them options. What was in place for previous orders might not be possible anymore, so be flexible to their needs. This should include – wherever possible – giving customers the option to tweak arrangements on outstanding orders. Set out clear policies on how packages will be handled and delivered to reassure customers that sanctioned hygiene and distancing protocols will be followed. We have just written a guide to help you with delivery solutions – just ask us for a copy.
Target and personalise. With so much going on, lines of communication are extremely busy with businesses scrambling to get in front of consumers. Cut through the noise by utilising your customer data and showing them that you know them best. Send discounts out to shoppers who have abandoned baskets. Remind customers of what’s in their wishlists and saved items. Send new personalised product recommendations to previously frequent customers. Remember, there are loads of ways to talk to your customers (push notifications, social comms, email) so have a strategy for each to ensure they’re all fully utilised.
Channel strategy. At a time when customers are unable to spend their money in-store, divert marketing spend to focus on direct-to-consumer and third-party digital channels such as marketplaces where deliveries are still being made. Marketplaces could be a great avenue, and they’ll support your omni-channel goals if your own D2C network is under strain. Our Future Shopper surveys show that 56% of online shoppers start their product search on Amazon, with 68% of online purchases made on marketplaces, so ask yourself: are you present where your customers want to shop?
Be brave and invest. No one knows how long this situation will last. But out of uncertainty, history tells us that organisations can, and will, make bold decisions which will define their future success. The natural tendency when times are hard is to batten down the hatches, protect your core assets, prepare for the worst – which in business terms usually means slashing costs. But lessons from the past suggest that, counterintuitive as it may seem, those companies that are brave and resist the urge to shrink their liabilities often come out the other side in the strongest position. Indeed, targeted investment based on a strategic long-term plan makes better business sense when it comes to future-proofing your business against uncertain times than weakening it with cuts. The companies who will emerge strongest from the current crisis will be those that are committed to innovation, that are agile and diversify their business rapidly, and that focus on moving with demand rather than sticking to their traditional course. None of that is possible without some level of investment.
Are you experiencing... a surge in web traffic?
Stabilise. The worst thing that could happen in times like this is for you to lose control. Make sure your systems are scaled, your teams are well-resourced and processes are adapted to handle the increased volumes.
Manage the volumes. Virtual queues are a great way to govern visits to your website. Try making your landing page queue engaging by adding content or something fun to minimise the disappointment of having to queue. Sound alerts for when access is granted would also be helpful. If your stores are still open for ‘essential’ business, establishing a ticketing/slot system can help in managing the flow of store visitors and adhering to the government’s social distancing guidelines.
Own your channel. This is an exceptional time when you are likely to experience increased online traffic as never before. Now is the time to demonstrate mastery of your digital channels, for instance, adding new, personalised and shoppable content frequently (but not invasively) across your sites.
Are you experiencing... more time on your hands?
Do good and think community. If you can, offer services and discounts to key workers. Support communities by making donations to local charities/care homes.
Share helpful advice. Have a landing page about COVID-19 detailing how you’re responding, and the measures you are taking, including information and tips. Companies are creating these pages with SEO in mind. Create content on how to stay safe online and how to purchase. If you cater to customers from an older demographic, they might not feel confident online, and self-isolating might pose a problem in getting help. Younger generations can benefit from a few online safety tips too! Make sure your people are appropriately equipped to cope with answering questions and solving problems via all your channels, including social (Twitter, Facebook) and through your website (instant chat etc.). Expect an increase in questions in the short-term as customers will want to know about immediate orders.
Housekeeping. This is a great time to get your business in order and clean up that backlog. Use this time to upgrade internal systems, improve skills and processes.
Preparation. No one could have seen this pandemic coming but it can act as a good indication of the stability and robustness of your online channels and how ready your company is for moving online. This is a great time to put in place what you need to ensure you’re ready in the future – especially for peak selling such as Black Friday – and to prep your recovery plan. You might want to have a campaign ready for when this is all over or an offer to welcome your customers back.
Innovate. Loads of great ideas have come about as a result of reacting to the most challenging situations. Use this time to experiment, learn and test. There are new technologies out there that could be used to optimise the experience for your customers and improve your business processes; now might be the ideal time to start looking at a few. Examples might include contactless delivery, AI-powered voice commerce, chatbots and RPA systems (Robotic Process Automation for managing all of that back-office admin while staff are working from home), accessible online video conferencing platforms like Teams or Zoom for keeping a dispersed workforce collaborating.
This is just the tip of the iceberg – the key is being open to testing new ideas, keeping your ear to the ground and being ready to try things out to see what works for you and your customers.
15 April 2020
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