In previous posts, I mentioned how small businesses were devising creative ways to stay afloat while customers were unable to visit their physical establishments during COVID lock-down. The work they did in the early days of lock-down to reinvent or pivot their business models has set them up for success in the future and larger, less agile companies should take note.
While not all tactics small businesses used will translate to something that works for a large brand, others offer a way to pivot into new business models that will cement a brand’s future for many years to come. (That is, so long as the brand is not already past saving.)
A Real Wake-Up Call
Recently we’ve seen an increasing number of large retail brands crumble quickly when the impact of COVID hit. Increasing numbers of brands moved to close physical stores or even filed for bankruptcy.
I would argue that these brands had already overextended themselves financially and were not investing enough in their digital footprint or investing in innovative customer experiences in general. They relied too heavily on the ‘old’ way of doing things, but the ‘old’ way hasn’t worked for a number of years. And the ‘old’ way resulted in these retailers losing touch with their customer’s needs and wants.
How Do Large Retailers Survive?
For the large retail brands that remain, they can use some of the learnings from smaller retailers to weather this storm. Smaller retailers in my area offered personal shopping, rapid pick-up and free local delivery. And we saw many large retailers, with their physical locations closed to the public at the start of COVID, add rapid pick-up and temporarily convert their physical locations to mini fulfillment centers for local shoppers.
That said, I see the rapid pick-up trend continuing on even after the pandemic has subsided. If anyone has tried to shop with kids in tow, you get the appeal of rapid, curbside pick-up. No longer do you have to corral your children into the cart, or tell them “no” a hundred times while you’re trying to get what’s on your list. And if you’re going to Target (which had rapid pick-up before the pandemic), you can use rapid pick-up to ensure that $50 trip doesn’t turn into a $250 trip and a half day shopping excursion….I’m totally joking about the half day shopping excursion and only partially joking about larger costing trip. (If you want a good laugh, I highly recommend searching for the video “Dads of Target.” It pokes fun at how a Target trip always takes longer and costs more than expected…but I digress.)
Another way brands can take note from the small retailer playbook is to more broadly provide personal shopping. For example, large clothing brands can offer personal shopping for back-to-school or special occasion outfits. A customer could call/chat with their local Old Navy, The Children’s Place, etc. and give the sizes, gender preference, color preferences, types of clothes and budget to the sales associate and the associate could pull a selection of clothing to be picked up for curbside pick-up later that day. Can you imagine the time this would save?!
And what could personal shopping do for the holiday season? (Yes, I know its only September, but the planner in me is thinking ahead.) Can you imagine giving a budget, your child’s age and likes and having a sales associate make recommendations on what to get for Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.?
No kids? Give a sales associate your significant other’s likes and a budget, and get recommendations back. Then, if you have the retailer’s app, the recommendations can be sent to your cart, you can remove/modify the selections, purchase in-app and schedule pick-up or delivery. (Again, we’re talking a HUGE time saver here!)
The last area where small businesses made purchasing easy, was free local delivery. For immunocompromized individuals or their caretakers, being able to have groceries and other products delivered to their door, greatly reduces the risk of becoming sick, saves time and helps build a positive relationship with the brand. (if the delivery service is good.)
Larger retailers can implement similar local delivery through partnering with shopping services or contracting with someone like an Uber or Lyft if they don’t want to take on the delivery and distribution overhead themselves. This again, saves the customer time and gives customers who may not go into the physical store, because of a lessened immune system or because they just don’t like to shop, another way to engage and build a relationship with the brand.
If you’re noticing a trend with these three ideas for evolving retail, you’d be right. While personal shopping, rapid pick-up, and local delivery, are things that reduce the risk of people getting sick, its also a huge time saver. And as the pandemic subsides and we begin to resume some of our activities (going to physical locations for work/school/vacation, extracurricular activities, etc.), the importance of saving time will increasingly become important.
That’s not to say, that customer experience can take a back seat when time savings increases in importance. On the contrary, it’s even more important to deliver an exceptional customer experience when the turnaround of these services is so much shorter. Expectations are high, so the customer service and experience need to operate at an even higher level.
And How Does Small Business Continue To Innovate?
The same scrappy businesses, that introduced the above tactics, will need to continually innovate through expanding their digital footprints, offering delivery, catering, virtual classes, etc. Because these businesses are closer to their customers, it is easier and necessary to solicit feedback to determine where to pivot and where to maintain course. If these businesses continue to be laser focused on what their customers need and how they are delivering the experiences to meet those needs, they will be well positioned to maintain, or even grow their business in the coming months and years.