With so many major sectors of the American economy “shut-down” in response to COVID-19, it may be challenging for marketing professionals to understand how to communicate with customers in retail. Shopkick analyzed shifts in U.S. shopping behavior over several weeks to uncover key insights for brands and retailers as they navigate this new shopping landscape. In March 2020, 76% of consumers said concerns about the virus were affecting their shopping habits. By April 2020, that number had jumped to 82%. Brands and retailers have also been through tremendous changes. When trying to keep up with shifting consumer behavior, brands may be concerned about remaining engaged with their customer base or feel the need to re-engage.
Communication with customers is certainly changing. Because of the lack of in-store communication channels and changing living conditions and buying patterns, brands are finding that they need new strategies to get their messages out to the consumer and hit the right tone for today’s market. But there are still communication channels that are gaining traction and messages that feel right for the times.
How to Communicate with Customers in Retail Today
With fewer opportunities to interact with brands in person, consumers are dependent on digital communications more than ever. Doing your job well online, with good UX and dependable digital technology, is critical. You can strengthen connections you already have with customers and find new ways to engage them as well.
Here are a few tips for how to communicate with customers in retail:
Make the Switch to Digital
Follow your customers. With many non-essential businesses closed and families ordered to stay home, there was a 34.9% increase year-over-year in the share of consumers reporting online retail purchases in April 2020. Take advantage of this and prioritize digital; don’t let your customers miss you. But first, troubleshoot your website for optimum user experience, especially for online ordering.
Mall stalwart, Cinnabon, is ready to ship or deliver their products to customers who may be missing their dose of sweets. Their bold website design seizes the viewer’s attention, and prompts customers to order the moment the homepage opens. While you’re purchasing cinnamon buns, you can add some branded clothing (CinnaSwag) to your cart, coffee capsules co-branded with Keurig, and a wide array of co-branded foods.
Sometimes, the ROI from your online presence may be heavier in goodwill than in revenue. Some businesses, like gyms, are moving their offerings online. Planet Fitness, for example, is streaming daily workouts via its Facebook page, where it has 4.6 million followers. Its workouts featuring celebrity guests get hundreds of thousands of views.
Similarly, Michaels has introduced a series of live-streamed and recorded online craft classes for adults and children. Independent bookstores are hosting online author events, such as the Harvard Bookstore, which transitioned its live event series online without interruption, and expanded its potential audience exponentially. A number of hospitality brands have found a clever way to enter the national conversation by revealing their recipes for popular foods so fans can make them at home.
Leverage In-app Shopping
With many stores closed, shipping delayed, and supply chains disrupted, digital media options are the last direct link to your brand and products for consumers at home. This changes the dynamic of your interactions with customers as their demands, and your capabilities, change. By encouraging feedback, maybe even rewarding it with a small premium like a discount on a next purchase, and certainly responding to it, you could be especially watchful for shifts in demand or consumer sentiment. Follow social conversations too.
With many stores closed, shipping delayed, and supply chains disrupted, digital media options are the last direct link to your brand and products for consumers at home.
In-app shopping is blossoming at the moment—especially via social media. Instagram continues to lead the pack and has recently introduced technology that allows customers to both shop and pay within the app. It is particularly popular with medium and small businesses. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have shopping functions, but they have failed to attract great interest so far. Now TikTok, with an estimated 800 million active users worldwide, has introduced a “Shop Now” button, with Kroger and Levi’s as early participants.
Show Community Support
In tough times, people notice how businesses respond, and they remember it. Even though some banks and major corporations have cut their customer support, the list of businesses that have added services is long. Several pharmacies have instituted free delivery. Car insurers are giving discounts or rebates on premiums. The ROI for these moves is mainly goodwill, and it’s being called “smart generosity.”
Many companies have taken exceptional strides to take care of their employees. Williams Sonoma, for example, closed its stores and paid all employees who work 12 hours a week or more their usual wages. It modestly placed this information within a letter from company executives, just one click away from their company homepage, and prompted by a call-to-action reading “Learn more about our stores.”
Kraft-Heinz is a great example of a full-scale corporate response to the COVID-19 crisis. The company pledged to donate $12 million in funds globally and $4.7 million in products. In one of its more public displays of altruism, the company is looking to its customers to nominate 500 independent diners to receive grants of $2,000 each.
Research on TV advertising has shown that 55% of consumers are more likely to buy the products of a brand that is helping the community. Times are hard for the ad industry too though. Experts estimated that ad spend will fall 19-25% in digital outlets and 27-32% for traditional outlets.
Feelings can be raw in times of crisis, so tone is important to consider. This is an ongoing issue that marketers are still addressing. Analysts are also asking what changes in consumer behavior are temporary, and which aren’t. Facebook has released significant guidance to address this question.
Communicate with Customers via Mobile Apps
Learn how to communicate with customers in retail by leveraging the power of mobile shopping rewards apps. Shopping rewards apps give consumers a break from carefully calculated compassion and return to a more basic message: shopping can be fun. You can build brand affinity giving consumers rewards for doing what they are already doing—browsing your website, interacting with products, learning more about new or familiar products, and making purchases.
Shopkick rewards users both in-store and online. The highly gamified interface encourages exploration and offers videos introducing new or highlighted products. With a low threshold of $2 to receive a reward, even consumers on a limited budget can use the app and start earning kicks to redeem for a gift card of their choosing.
In return, you increase brand familiarity while also collecting data and observing consumer behavior—all without having to offer coupons or discounts. Thanks to Shopkick’s close tracking, you’ll receive a neatly measured ROI as well. In this day of changing consumer behavior and advertiser uncertainty, Shopkick provides a simple, timeless way to engage consumers.
Image courtesy of Surasak_Ch