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Be a Resilient Retailer

November 6, 2020

To succeed in a pandemic, retail needs to keep reacting to changing needs and new opportunities. Here are some examples of positive pivots and what resilient retailers have done to survive, and even thrive in our new reality.

Prior to the pandemic, many Canadian businesses had been slow in getting online. Statscan reported almost 85% of customers had made on-line purchases in 2019, and yet according to a Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) report, when the pandemic hit, only 4 in 10 Canadian retail businesses had an online presence where they could receive and fulfill orders. Stores without a means to become virtual were among the first to close – permanently.

The pandemic has challenged both single-store retailers and larger chains to engage with their customers and keep their businesses accessible, relevant, and profitable. Here are five ways they are making it work:

Keep added value visible and virtual

Retail best serves when they provide what’s missing from a store visit: advice. Retail staff can still help customers compare options in a category, show how products can be used and make a recommendation. Canadian Home Leisure, a retail store that sells hot tubs, patio furniture, barbeques, and billiards supplies. “we’ve offered virtual presentations on items that people have lots of questions about,” says Kyle Sawyer, owner. A small natural supplement business called the Apothecary in Alberta didn’t have to lay off a single staff member when the virus shut everything down.  This advice-led natural remedy business survived by making staff available on the phone for consultations, offering virtual presentations and making deliveries.

Carry on with Curbside

Curbside pick-up has been extremely popular. Consumers are used to shopping with their cars and want to drive to a store to get a pick up rather than waiting for a delivery: it feels a little more like “normal” life when so much feels out of control. For retailers, whether they are on-line or not, this hybrid way of shopping has emerged as a great strategy and will likely remain. An estimated 75% of retailers offer curbside pick-up according to Coresight Research. Some, like Target, are banking on expanding it permanently by redrawing their parking lots to accommodate Curbside parkers. They want customers to continue to visit them – even if it’s not indoors. And for many retailers, Curbside shopping is more profitable: packing and delivery sucks margin out of orders.

Embrace the power of surprise and delight

When stores were closed, Type Books, which has three Toronto locations, started putting together $100 “Mystery Bags” for shoppers—a four or five book combination handpicked by staff based on any kind of guidelines provided. “Covid challenged us to think outside the box,” says co-owner Joanne Saul.  In the days of Covid sameness, the team at Type Books realized that book surprises would be fun and entertaining.  Other retailers have rewarded customers with free samples of new products in their curbside orders – this not only delights them but creates curiosity – what will be in the bag next time?

Think about what else customers need

What to do when your category slows down? Granadilla Swim is a popular South African brand of swimwear. Their sales were connected to their customers’ ability to travel and vacation.  When the lockdown happened, the owners decided to introduce a completely new service to maintain some income: fresh produce. They reached out to local farmers and small grocers who had no online presence and offered them an option to sell their goods through the Granadilla Swim online store. This helped the swimwear brand stay alive through more awareness, and also helped small entrepreneurs. The new service turned out to be a massive success – so much, that the swimwear brand decided to launch a separate service, now available on the new dedicated website. And the shop now sells not only fresh produce, but also non-perishable goods, snacks, drinks, and baked goods.

Relook at the value proposition

The pandemic caused a premium retailer to rethink its pricing strategy. The 170-year-old Harrods – that calls itself the Worlds’ leading Luxury Department Store – opened its first outlet store in May. Before 80,000 people would walk through Harrods one-million-square-foot flagship Knightsbridge location but due to social distancing capacity is limited to 4500, making it hard to clear inventory: the new outlet store will help Harrods to unload unsold inventory. Average discounts are in the range of 40% to 60%.  It is located in a different area of London – Shepherd’s Bush. A line-up of 300 shoppers signaled its initial popularity.

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