4 Ways to Stand Out in Today’s Retail World In the Wake of COVID-19

When the pandemic began, retailers were forced to adjust quickly as customers changed their shopping habits and limited their in-store visits. The retail world has always been fast-paced, but the pandemic accelerated the need to adapt.

Consumer shopping habits have changed, we all know, but consumers are also changing the way they shop, with 73% reporting they have engaged in a new shopping behaviour. More than 77% of the same customers say they will continue the behaviour, even after COVID-19 ends. As we move into the holiday shopping season, retailers must find new ways to stand out and reach customers while maintaining their sales.


1. Invest in E-Commerce and Digital

Online shopping exploded in 2020 according to the 2nd Quarter 2020 Retail E-Commerce Sales Report.  The U.S. saw more dollars spent online in the 2nd quarter than in any other quarter or year. Moreover, there was 129% year-over-year growth in U.S. and Canadian e-commerce orders and 146% growth in all online retail orders. This is the future of retail, and retailers must invest in their e-commerce strategy as we move forward.

Buy Online, Pick Up in Store (BOPIS), online inventory management, mobile websites, and other forms of e-commerce are crucial because customers like it, they use it, and most vital, they expect it. McKinsey found a 20-40% increase of consumers planning to use omnichannel and digital even after the pandemic ends, and the same survey found a majority of customers planning to shop almost exclusively online. Ecommerce has always been a major player in the retail world, but now it’s clear that retailers should continue expanding their e-commerce strategy.


2. Personalize the “Screen” Experience

As consumers switch more to shopping online, the retail world has more consumers interacting with screens than ever before. Where retailers used to emphasize in-store interactions, now there’s a growing trend toward technology for a more personalized experience to make connections with customers. Retailers across the board have embraced new ways to add a personal touch to digital interactions and replace in-person sales staff, such as H&M’s outfit-planning Bot on Kiki that helps shoppers build an outfit around a provided piece of clothing. Chatbots, online software used for online conversations with customers, were already a great tool for retailers to provide answers to queries, upsell, and offer customer service. Retailers who needed to reduce in-person interaction with customers and workers continue to rely on their chatbots as the pandemic continued to change store operations. Customers found them helpful too, as retailers saw an 86 percent increase in customers using self-support sessions from March to May.

Augmented reality (AR), specialized technology that simulates the product on a customer’s mobile screen is another technology that is reinventing the digital experience for customers. For example, customers browsing Kendra Scot’s website can use the brand’s Virtual Try-On feature to see what they look like “wearing” earrings and other accessories. AR provides a safe way to interact with products especially as stores practice social distancing and remove high-touch objects from their stores.


3. Adapt Product Categories

As people spent more time at home during the early days of the pandemic, they opted for “comfy over casual.” In response, clothing retailers started adding loungewear like sweatpants and leggings to their inventory, and sales of this clothing soared. While merchandising used to consider seasons when planning inventory, now the retail world must adapt to looking at continuing consumer needs for comfort, entertainment, and productivity, especially as homes now become work and school environments.

Retailers who recognize these needs and start incorporating new product categories will stand out, especially as today’s consumer stops making unnecessary trips to malls and shopping plazas. Offering more product categories in your store can help small retailers compete with big box shops like Target and Walmart. Using analytics tools like Google Shopping Insights will help retailers identify what customers are searching for in their area, and adjust product offerings to meet demand. And of course, as retailers expand their offerings, it’s important to note what product categories will dwindle, such as luggage, party supplies, formal wear, and accessories.


4. Add Customer-Centric Offerings

As customers continue to change their spending habits and routines, customer relations have become a crucial focus. Membership programs and subscription services are a good way to keep your brand front and center in the customer’s mind, plus offer convenience and “one-stop shopping.”  Walmart recently launched Walmart+, a new membership program designed to streamline the customer experience, help shoppers save time, and reduce their in-person contact. Walmart+ combines in-store and online shopping with unlimited free delivery and a Scan and Go app for touch-free shopping.

Outside of a membership program, customized products can also make an impression on customers. The key here is to get creative. Brattle Books in Boston found a new way to get books into customers’ hands: creating specialized book packages for “prestigious bookshelves” that will be on display during Zoom sessions and other telemeetings. The store staff field requests for book categories that will “look impressive” for job interviews or meetings, then display, then contact the requester with their ideas. If the customer is happy with the selection, then books are shipped off or available for curbside pickup. Another offering is subscription shopping, where stores offer mystery boxes for a specific product category, theme, or need.


Standing Out and Staying On Top

As a retailer, you should be adaptive, responsive, and creative not only now, but for the road ahead. As you change tactics to meet customers’ needs, it’s important to make sure every aspect of your retail store runs efficiently for both your staff and your customers. Customers’ shopping habits have already changed, and you need to make sure you can keep pace. While you are busy focusing on changing trends, let Magstar Total Retail ensure you are taken care of on the back end. Magstar has the tools to make your business run more efficiently for in-store and digital operations, whether it’s managing an increasing number of SKUs or keeping inventory stocked and ready to ship at a moment’s notice. If you’d like to discuss how you can reinvent your retail chain to match the “new normal.” Magstar President Steven Greenwood is happy to connect with you.


Book a Chat with Him Right Now!