Remember business as usual? No matter what that meant to you in 2019, 2020 took your business operations and turned them on their head. So what now?
We’ve dug into this question: How can businesses regain their vibrancy and build back stronger?
Part Two in our ongoing series explores opportunities to transform your operations as business rebound.
KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER’S COVID-19 HABITS
You closed, you opened, closed again, sort of reopened. That’s the unabridged Year in Review for 2020. Put another way, your customers vanished, they came back, they vanished again, they sort of came back.
COVID-19 snowplowed consumer behavior. But it didn’t bury the consumer. Retail sales rose during the summer and are above where they were in February before the pandemic took its toll. Businesses that relied on foot traffic have pivoted to drive web traffic—and that’s meant change like never before.
Your customer is still out there; they just want a safe, secure, convenient experience. Suddenly, for example, 60 percent of U.S. consumers feel more comfortable with contactless payments after having used them during the pandemic. Many may never go back.
Embracing and meeting these new customer expectations requires knowing your customer and being ready to adapt quickly. They may want curbside pickup from here on out, but they may not want all that old plastic wrap! Stay flexible, and be prepared to use the digital tools that are out there.
UPDATE YOUR DIGITAL TOOLKIT
Business recovery is not just about having the right mindset. It takes the right set of digital tools to navigate new consumer wants, needs, and behaviors.
Mital Patel, the head of digital revenue development at payments company Elavon, Inc., notes a dramatic rise in consumers who are using digital tools to conduct safe and healthy transactions: “84 percent of people adopting mobile payments now prefer it over cash.”
Yes, 2020 has been called the year of contactless payments. Just remember that’s not all you need in this new hyper-digital world. A seamless customer experience is one way to grow your client base. Things to consider are:
- A robust online shopping platform to complement existing brick-and-mortar retail,
- Real-time communications so customers know where their product is in the fulfillment journey and when it ships,
- An inventory management system that helps you stay ahead of product ordering. You don’t want to have too much cash tied up in inventory, but pandemic-related supply chain disruptions taught us the value of having a little extra product on hand to weather the unexpected. A smart inventory system can help you strike the right balance.
REINVENT YOUR SALES STRATEGY
In the early months of the pandemic, many specialty retailers cleared inventory to generate cash. That’s understandable in a short-term crisis, but not necessarily sustainable when you realize your business is now operating in an indefinitely changed environment. Retailers should create a new, thoughtful long-term strategy around sales that supports long-term profitability.
Rebecca Heard, Head of Brand, Marketing & eCommerce at evo.com, says her company is looking to drive more targeted offers and underwater pricing strategies while using customer data to put the focus on increasing spend.
“We’re putting a greater focus on conversion optimization—so maximizing the conversion of every person who comes to the website,” she says. “Strategic investments can really bolster the performance of your digital business.”
BE TRANSPARENT ABOUT YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN
More and more sustainability-minded outdoor enthusiasts want to know how your product is made, by whom, and what materials were used in its production. If you’re focused on a sustainable supply chain and have a compelling story to tell, this is your opportunity.
“I expect sustainability to be increasingly important coming out of this crisis—not less important—and we’re seeing consumers continue to really care about and prioritize sustainability as they decide which products to buy,” says Greg Gausewitz, Product Sustainability Manager at REI.
Many consumers who want to buy from sustainable brands are eager for authentic, honest information. With so many businesses claiming to be committed to this cause and that cause, consumers need guidance overcoming barriers related to a lack of trust, a lack of information, and confusion about what’s truly sustainable. One effective strategy, according to The Conference Board, is communicating with localized messaging relevant to specific audiences and geographies. And do it as transparently as possible. For example, videos of behind-the-scenes sustainability practices help consumers trust your claim because they can see it for themselves.
KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS CLOSE: LESSONS FROM REI
Even as REI adapted quickly to doing business in the pandemic, it stayed close to its customers by soliciting feedback to ensure the business remained true to the values it shares with its customers.
“We’ve seen a fundamental shift in the way business gets done,” says REI’s Gausewitz. “We’re committed to fighting for life outdoors and really minimizing our footprint on the environment.”
Keeping that commitment, takes a concerted effort, particularly during times of dramatic change.
Shortly after launching curbside pickup, REI invited customer feedback on the experience.
“The first thing that they said was ‘easier returns,’ not surprisingly,” says Gausewitz. “The second thing they said was ‘packaging waste. How do you minimize packaging waste?'”
For REI, it was another chance to advance sustainability by doubling down on eliminating plastic polybags from their supply chain. Gausewitz says that REI has worked with brands to reduce plastic bags throughout the supply chain, so when customers pick up products ordered online, they don’t get a bunch of unnecessary packaging as well.
“That’s great for customer satisfaction,” Gausewitz says, “and it’s great for sustainability.”