Tough measures have been implemented in the UK to curb the spread of Covid-19, with households told to stay home, social distance and self isolate. With this we saw non-essential stores forced to close last week, resulting in a huge surge in online orders. But how are retailers coping? Even experienced pure-play retailers like Ocado are struggling to meet the demand - their website has had a queueing system in place for over two weeks and they were forced to go offline last weekend to try to get on top of the influx.
People who don't often or may have never shopped online are highly likely to start now. If they find the experience convenient and stress-free, there's a strong chance online shopping will become a lifelong habit. Could Covid-19 be the driving force for e-commerce adoption across the world?
We are certainly seeing a peak period in retail. However, unlike planned seasonal peaks, retailers have had next to no time to plan for this. Where usually they would make sure they have relevant stock, staff and marketing in place, Covid-19 has taken the world, and retail, by surprise, and online retailers need to adapt quickly to survive.
Which industries are seeing a peak and which will be negatively affected?
Obviously, grocery items and healthcare goods are seeing large increases, but stores selling these items remain open so their day-to-day trading has seen few restrictions. For these retailers, the main challenges will be staffing levels and wellness, and production and supply chain issues.
We are also seeing smaller independent and convenience stores coming into their own. These stores are close to people's homes, easy and quick to navigate and are much more agile in their ability to change their product offerings. As more people frequent these smaller stores, it may be a good time for these retailers to consider becoming collection points for online retailers and delivery services.
Outside of the obvious, what else are UK consumers buying? We've seen a large increase in sales of home improvement/DIY products, craft and hobby goods, 'work from home' tech, children's toys and 'adult' toys. As boredom strikes the UK, many people are trying new activities or rediscovering old hobbies, much of which falls into the above categories.
Sadly, we expect that the fast fashion industry will be one of the worst-hit by the social distancing measures. People don't need a new outfit for their weekly night out, plus if money is tight, such novelties are non-essential. Additionally, many people are using their time at home to have clear-outs and will be discovering that their wardrobes are much fuller than they realised. Indeed, Internet Retailing's RetailX tracker has already reported a steep decline in online sales of clothing. When surveyed two weeks ago, 3% of people said they had stopped buying clothes online altogether. This now stands at 28%.
How can retailers lower customer stress during a crisis, create loyalty and increase revenue?
It's nice to see that the news about coronavirus isn't all doom and gloom. The daily updates from retailers offering NHS workers discounts, or CEO's like Kurt Geiger's Neil Clifford giving up his salary for a year to help the business, bring hope during these stressful times. We believe that the brands who focus on wellbeing and positive messages over profits are the ones that will come out of this crisis on top.
So how can online retailers that are still operating lower customer stress and create loyalty during coronavirus?
Reassure and communicate proactively
Delays are inevitable as online orders increase and supply chain capabilities decrease. Your customer will understand this as long as you communicate any delays proactively. Provide regular updates on where their order is, when it will be delivered and by who. Acknowledge and apologise for any delays or issues and you won't see an influx of WISMO customer enquiries.
In addition, customers may be worried about their safety when receiving the order. Reassure and guide them in emails on how it will be delivered to keep both the courier and themselves safe.
Include cross and up-sell products
The items that are popular online at the moment lend themselves well to cross and up-selling. Encourage your customer to repurchase by including product recommendations in delivery and marketing emails. How about more books by the same author? A more challenging paint by numbers? Or a top to go with the yoga pants?
Loyal customers should be rewarded all year round, but this is more important now than ever. Use marketing emails to send discount codes to existing customers. Send offers in dispatch or shipping communications to encourage repeat purchases. Many customers may struggle financially during this pandemic so discounts will make them feel valued and they will reward retailers with their continued custom once business is usual.
Think outside the box, show your brand's personality and add some joy into your customers' day. You could add an extra gift to the parcel or include some wellness tips in the shipping communications to help them deal with this new way of living. Are you a sportswear brand? You could add a free workout video in your delivery confirmation email to encourage the customer to use the item straight away. The options are endless...
Many of the items purchased online during the coming months will be by consumers trying new hobbies or making improvements to their homes. Include videos, blogs and other content around the product in your delivery and marketing emails to provide inspiration to your customers. For example, if they've bought a guitar, include a beginners guide to chords. Or if they've bought a flat-pack desk you can include a blog about how to decorate your home office.
Share uplifting content
For those retailers who may not have anything appropriate to sell at this time, those who have made the hard decision to close their e-commerce sites or those who are still operating, now is the time to work on your brand image. Sharing uplifting content with your audience will not only create a community within your customers, but will also create a positive sentiment around your brand. We've seen brands such as In the Style pledge to donate 10% of proceeds to Age UK and many offer NHS and frontline workers discounts.
Or lend your social channels to help spread positive or informative messages: H&M have allowed global aid organisations such as Red Cross to use their social channels to spread messages about Covid-19. What can you do to create some positivity in these hard times?
Prepare for life after coronavirus
Whilst it may not seem like it right now, there will be life after coronavirus. We are in uncharted territory and brands have never had to relaunch their offline and e-commerce stores and marketing efforts before. How they use the next few months to prepare will separate the winners from the losers. Take time to assess your customer journey from start to finish and identify areas of improvement. Whilst it may seem scary to engage with service suppliers and commit to spending, now is the prime time to put new tools in place so your customers have the best possible experience once it is 'business as usual'.