3 strategies retailers can use to target local communities in the coronavirus pandemic

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

With the coronavirus pandemic confining consumers to their local areas, there’s an increased focus on local communities, amenities and sourcing. Retailers can succeed in this environment with personalized and powerful customer experiences and by investing in their omni-channel offerings.

We tend to forget how far we travel each day… that is, until we stop doing it. Research by the Trades Union Congress estimated that almost 4 million Brits travel more than 2 hours to and from work each day.

But during Covid-19, even with stores, pubs and restaurants reopening and air bridges opening up between other countries (and then closing again), we are still very much confined to our local areas, especially with many of us still working from home.

As a result, people are starting to think local – they’re considering how they can support their local shops, communities and leisure centers, and starting to think long-term about the changes Covid-19 will have on their lifestyles. So, where does retail slot into all of this?

Consumers are choosing local stores and local produce 

In a recent survey by Deloitte, three in five UK consumers (59%) said they were shopping in more local stores since lockdown in order to help support them. Many consumers have become more mindful of the impact their spending has in their local communities, with 57% stating that they are more likely now to buy from a brand that sells products that are locally sourced than they were before Covid-19.

The same study also revealed that consumers are particularly mindful of shopping in stores that are making efforts to keep customers and employees safe. 62% of all respondents stated that they were more likely to spend money with companies that prioritize the health and safety of their staff, while one in five said they stopped purchasing from a retailer because of its poor response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what retailers can do:

1) Create a personalized customer experience

Whether you’re a retail chain with a store portfolio spanning across the world, or a speciality store with a handful of employees, now is the time to start building relationships with customers on a personal level.

Take a clienteling approach to building brand relationships by integrating your CRM system onto the shop floor. This will empower your store associates to achieve small feats, such as greeting a customer by name, to grander accomplishments, such as pulling up shopping history and preferences, suggesting new items or styles to try, or booking customers in for a personalised shopping experience on their next visit using appointment booking software.

2) Experience is still key

Before Covid-19 came along, the retail sector was on the cusp of embracing something brilliant – experiences were taking over the shopping experience. Stores were morphing into brand interaction hubs, where customers came to discover new things, learn new skills, or simply have fun. Take Lululemon’s yoga and meditation studios that allowed customers to put clothing to the test free of charge, or American Eagle building an in-store laundromat for students to wash their clothes.

In a matter of months, the coronavirus pandemic has redefined the shape of many industries, including retail, but experience is still incredibly important for stores.

In a recent blog post, Paul Durkin, the Head of UK&I Retail at commercial real estate firm, Cushman & Wakefield, said:

“Experience-led retail and specific, or event-driven shopping missions will become increasingly important to attract people to physical stores. We will likely see an increase in the consolidation of prime retail into a smaller number of locations, visited less often per capita, but servicing a larger catchment area.”

This will benefit prime, central-metropolitan retail, prime shopping centres and outdoor retail parks, but might have a negative impact on the already-struggling secondary and tertiary shopping centre locations, says Durkin.

But creating a great in-store experience isn’t all about bringing the glitz and glamour – it’s about providing an engaging, streamlined and safe customer experience. This can be done by eliminating queues using a queue management system and by allowing customers to book appointments with in-store experts for services like styling or technical support using a booking system.

3) Invest in your omni-channel offering

During the lockdown, customers of all different backgrounds and generations were forced to get creative when it came to shopping. Customers started shopping online more, and those who had never thought of using click and collect or buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) services started doing so religiously.

Find out more about click and collect software

And while many stores have reopened, the majority of consumers are still considerably concerned about their safety and the safety of others, and a significant number are still actively avoiding stores altogether.

That’s why it’s vital for retailers to invest in their omni-channel offers. For instance, major UK electronics retailers, Currys PC World, has launched a drive-thru collection service outside more than 300 of its stores. The service uses Qudini’s click and collect software to allow customers to check-in to a store by driving into a designated car park and scanning a QR code. Store associates then deliver orders to customers in-person by dropping them off directly in the customer’s car boots.

Over in the US, department store retailer, Kohl’s, experienced a 60% spike in online sales in Q2, after investing in website functionality improvements and moving quickly to enhance omni-channel services, which was largely driven by its “store drive-up” service.

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