Right about now, we all have at least a little quarantine fatigue. We’d like to get on with life and work without worrying about safety protocols, changing guidelines, or, heaven forbid, a second round of restricted activity. We survived the initial shutdown and are hopefully stronger and more nimble than before.
We took a look at the approaches that set resilient retailers apart from the rest. These are the strategies and tactics that provided a competitive advantage when nothing was business as usual:
The challenge: Varied policies by location
Covid-19 didn’t impact all countries, states, counties or cities in exactly the same manner; it quickly became evident that reactions were going to be, if not unique, at least widely varied. That obstacle alone presented most HQ offices with a monumental headache. How do leaders in a separate location stay in sync with the myriad of local requirements and protocols changing daily, or in some cases, every few hours?
The strategy: Empower local markets
Retailers that fared the best during the depths of the pandemic were the ones who listened to their team members in the field. Justen Noakes, Director of Emergency Preparedness at H-E-B, shared how it’s necessary to learn from “boots on the ground” in each market. It allows a more expedient reaction to changing customer needs and/or required operational protocol. Carry that a step further by entrusting well-trained leaders who are equipped and empowered to respond as local needs dictate. This can dramatically improve the success rate in moments of crisis. Timely and appropriate responses will garner trust by not only your customers, but also your workforce who are key to each location’s success.
At Zipline, we believe that better communication plays a huge role in developing empowered leaders. Giving teams the ability to provide real-time feedback, and enabling them to talk directly to HQ and each other, is a cornerstone of our communications philosophy. Our Groups module is built specifically for this type of use case. HQ can get a clear picture of what’s happening in the field without having to wait for emails and insights to work their way up the chain.
The challenge: Changing consumer needs
Suddenly your company’s product/services aren’t needed or viable during a period of crisis. How does your business make money in the interim?
The strategy: Stay agile
Retail companies who were able to swiftly (albeit temporarily) change lanes fared far better than their more rigid counterparts. Many stepped in to provide a different product or service more relevant to a current situation or community. As an example, we saw many apparel retailers pivot to design and sell facemasks.
Another example worth noting comes from the hospitality sector. When restaurants/bars were closed or serving only curbside pickup orders, they no longer needed large volumes of fresh food for meals normally sold as dine-in meals. Suddenly food wholesalers found themselves with surplus inventory of fresh produce they needed to sell before it spoiled. C&C Produce, a Missouri foodservice distributor, pivoted and began offering their “community box” directly to the local community. Instead of destroying supplies, they sold boxes of fresh produce for $20/box and rotated items weekly based on available inventory. Growers win; wholesalers win; customers win.
Success amidst a pandemic requires agility and nimbleness, two things retail isn’t known for. The only way to implement changes and move quickly is through good communication and a feedback loop that keeps the entire team aligned. Fortunately, Zipline was built for this: our software makes it really easy to target and personalize comms so that everyone, at each level of the organization, only sees information that applies to them and everyone gets to track execution. As a result, everyone saves time, employees know what’s expected of them and can succeed in their jobs and businesses become more agile.
The challenge: Keeping customers and employees safe
Maybe your business is located in a city that implements protocols restricting the number of people allowed to shop or work at a given time. The employees in your building are now uncomfortable sitting in a cubicle next to so many other people. Or, customers don’t want to wait in line to get into your business. What modifications can be made or enacted that can address these very real safety concerns, while still allowing your business to operate?
The strategy: Prioritize safety over profits. Period.
In the long run, visible actions that are consistent with local guidelines can elicit customer and employee trust, both now and in the future. The most successful retailers have been flexible in areas where that hadn’t been considered in the past.
In stores, directional markings on the floor reduce the chances of customers intersecting with too many people while shopping. Making appointments with clients at a designated time eliminates or reduces the number of walk-ins, allowing customers undivided attention from your staff. But more so, they see and understand you have made not only their safety, but also that of your workforce, a priority.
How you communicate these new safety procedures matter. Many retailers have discovered a need to send more visual-based communications: messages with pictures, videos, GIFs, etc. The easiest way to ensure store employees can take action quickly, and to expectation, is through videos and pictures. Fortunately, Zipline’s publishing interface makes adding multimedia content as easy as drag-and-drop.
Is there only one right way to navigate through and survive a crisis? Is there only one answer that ensures success on the other side of a coronavirus shutdown? (Spoiler alert: Nope.) Every business can point to something they did well, and probably quite a few more tactics they should tag as “needs improvement”. The overall lesson to note now, and embrace going forward, is that good businesses must continue learning. And more importantly, applying that knowledge to future actions. If we can help you learn and grow, please reach out. We would love to help.