As headlines everywhere focus on the health impact of COVID-19, retail is facing a massive shift in consumers’ shopping behavior. The CDC recommends social distancing, aggressive handwashing, strong hygiene, emergency preparedness, and self-quarantine (if or suspected ill). Nationwide, we are also seeing conferences, events, gatherings, and even annual traditions canceled. Consumers have also begun canceling travel; fueled by fear and airlines offering free cancelations, offices are encouraging staff to work from home.

There are a lot of signals getting sent to consumers and this presents an interesting challenge for retailers, both digital and physical. As consumer fear increases, willingness to visit physical stores decreases, and at the same time, market volatility drives uncertainty that results in tightened budgets.

Coresight Research found that 47% of consumers online were taking social distancing as far as to avoid in-person shopping. If the situation continues to worsen (as it has), this number lifts to almost 75%. Retailers must find a way to get consumers to trust them to be there, and they must earn consumer’s trust that products will be shipped safely.

Retailers face a double-edged sword: in addition to declining foot traffic, there are also long-tail considerations. Reduced production from remote factories, supply chain disruptions, and slowed shipping hints to a risky recovery post-virus, as next season’s line falls behind.

Focusing on the immediate, here are some ways brands can make up lost in-store sales:

Digital Strategy:

  • Free shipping or free shipping minimum: don’t give a reason to shop elsewhere
    • The NRF says 75% of consumers expect free shipping, this is even more impactful if ship to store or buy in-store options are unavailable
  • Acknowledge what is happening in promotions (email, site, blog, ads, etc) and consider the consumer’s mindset:
    • Many consumers are working from home, are there products to help their day? Would online retail therapy help?
    • Does the product ship fast? Is it in stock and ready to help? Is it made in the USA?
    • Do you provide warehouse staff masks and gloves to keep them safe?
  • Acknowledge that delays are coming (if they are)
    • You can announce what is happening in soft ways

Paid Media

  • Leverage Paid Social and Search Engine Marketing to drive traffic to your e-Comm site
  • Lean into performance and invest where you are seeing returns
  • We recommend up-to-date messaging and tailored product promotions to drive consumers to shop online.
  • Adjust budgets to align with rapidly changing behavior
  • Consider brand safety and avoid predatory messaging

SEO

  • Utilize structured data to ensure articles you post are lifted and keep consumers informed
  • Product recommendations should align with recent trends
  • Update Google My Business account (and all listings) with accurate hours and closures

Email

  • Be transparent with consumers, they want to know the brand is responding
  • Not every email has to be sales focused
    • Offer tips for staying busy in the home with activities that are brand aligned

Analytics

  • Keep a close eye on all performance
  • Monitor changing site behavior and ensure relevant information is accessible
  • Adjust recommended product tools to focus on recent behavior
  • Manually deprioritize certain products
  • A/B Test messaging for consumer responses

Stay tuned for rolling updates as the situation progresses.