Pandemic Playbook: Some strategies to help you through the Covid-19 Shutdown

By Maaike Hunter

6 months ago you wouldn't have believed someone explaining our current scenario, and yet here we are. The pressure on businesses, teams, logistics, product design and sourcing, and most importantly sales, is unlike anything most have been through before, at least in recent memory. 


Last week we partnered with Shopify for the second instalment of our Future of Commerce event series (virtually, of course) to open up the discussion between retail businesses in Asia Pacific about how everyone is strategically repositioning in light of the pandemic. (if you missed it, you can view a recording of the webinar here!)


We got some great feedback, but one aspect our customers and partners wanted more on is this: New Zealand is in a uniquely complex position compared to our Australian counterparts, in that we are unable to open physical retail stores OR ship eCommerce orders. This leaves us, like Australia, focusing on eCommerce pure-play to cover costs in the interim, but UNLIKE Australia, we are having to drive eCommerce sales without being able to fulfil customer orders for at least a month. We are left with the question; how do we entice our customers to buy what they will not receive straight away? 


Although we have no checklist to achieve this, no golden secret, we do have a few ideas that we hope may help businesses who are re-strategising on the fly. What can we do right now? 


Communicate Your Position 

 

Communication and marketing messaging have become even more crucial than ever in light of the lockdown. 


Clarity:

 

Check your site right now and ask yourself;  is it clear to our customers at a glance that a) you are still taking orders and b) that those orders will be shipped as soon as the lockdown is lifted? If the answer is no, or you're not sure, update your merchandising immediately. Use any tool at your disposal, or talk to your agency about quick options that will fit the bill. Easy opportunities for this message are:


  • Announcement banners that display sitewide
  • Pop ups that display as a customer lands on your site

Still helpful, but less powerful in isolation (no pun intended) are:


  • Homepage banners: this should still be implemented, but not as the only place displaying this message. Keep in mind that not all customers land on your homepage every time, especially from advertising and search leads.) 
  • Pop ups throughout the cart journey (mini-cart or cart): These pop ups are great for reiterating very clearly the shipping timeline for lockdown orders, and making sure every customer placing orders can not have missed this information, however we should be trying to communicate this far earlier than a checkout journey to avoid customer frustration.   

Connection: 


Once you feel you have given the once-over on the logistics of your situation, and customers are clear on what is and is not available at this time, consider how you can be transparent with customers and humanise the situation your business in. Adding more context into emails, site merchandising and social media to show that you appreciate customers for their support and understand the effect on them will go a long way in reminding your customers why they shop or engage with you. This will be especially important to businesses that market heavily on their brand story, such as family owned businesses, or start up/”disruptor” brands. 


Although some businesses will choose to do this more subtly to stand out from the flurry of Covid-19 emails or ensure that communications are still on brand, I would implore that it is important to find even small ways of showing extra customer care than usual. Even highlighting extended customer service hours or ways to get in touch with physical stores closed is a great start.    



Review Your Tactics For Driving Sales 


In terms of incentivising customers to shop while the lockdown is on, we understand that this is the really hard part, and yet the crucial part. Here are two ways we could kick things into action in a short time period. 


Drive Relevant Product: 


One is that we need to urgently re-prioritise the categories we drive during this time, and potentially well into the aftermath of lockdown. Categories that are traditionally high volume and order value drivers such as event-related outfitting, evening wear, workwear, have taken a huge dive across the industry. People just are not going out (obviously) and once the lockdown is lifted, we may see that people don’t respond to these categories the same way due to an increased sense of germophobia and general weariness of crowds.


The other category that we may see an ongoing effect will be categories that can easily be deemed non-essential, or “treats”. This is likely going to affect high-value items that the customer buys themselves, as opposed to gifts. This is much harder to shift marketing away from, as this can comprise huge amounts of sales driving for many businesses. In some cases, shifting messaging away from “treats” or frivolity, and focusing on “investment” pieces will be crucial. For example, leather goods are often a higher value purchase that customers may shy away from if they feel it is a superfluous purchase. Tp counteract this, highlight key value propositions that make your product stand apart in quality and longevity may be helpful. Think about highlighting features such as handmade elements, sustainable practises, or warranty services for products.


Many businesses are quickly making the switch to highlighting categories that are relevant to the current everyday life of their customer; working from home, trying to stay entertained, picking up new hobbies, spending time with children and partners, focusing on new fitness goals, to speculate a few. This has spawned more focus on categories such as comfortable clothing (loungewear, essential layers etc.), homeware and DIY, children's entertainment and crafts, adults crafts, books and gaming. 


If you have a product selection that allows you to do this, we would consider this an essential tactical move. Highlighting that you have products that meet these needs should be reflected on all homepage and site landing page messaging and imagery. This is most effective if you are able to curate new collections with their own messaging to match (for example, accessible price point homewares as “make it your own” or “the final touches” or loungewear and any other best-sellers that you can shift to “cosy classics.” The change in direction should also follow in all advertising copy, and email planning for the next month. It is possible that the testing of these categories will need to continue beyond the lockdown, so starting to test your audience's appetite and behaviour for these products is best tried sooner rather than later. 


The other key piece that customers may still want to invest in is gifting and larger occasions that involve others. Messaging around birthdays, engagements, weddings and family are likely to touch sentimental notes at this time, as well as represent aspects of their lives that customers do not want affected; their ability to show gratitude and love to friends and family. We have seen some beautiful messaging from brands trying to highlight that, even in lockdown, birthdays still happen, baby showers will be back, anniversaries are coming up. If you are able to drive products towards gifting, this is a good opportunity to tap into something that may be seen as more essential than spending on oneself.  


If you rely on service and experience to drive sales under normal circumstances, now is the time to consider offering a digital experience if you can. Businesses in the fitness sector are doing this quickly and effectively, with yoga studios and gyms offering live stream classes and in-house coaching to offer support to their customers. For retail brands, this may mean brainstorming new digital ways to give customers a product release experience, or a new age of “VIP” service treatments when shopping high ticket items such as engagement jewellery. Virtual consultations, “try on” technology or secret collections are all elements that would need wheels in motion as soon as possible, as lead times on adding these services will vary hugely. 


Incentivise Through Promotion:


The second part is a promotion. Although it is not imperative that all brands go on sale, you may have noticed that many brands and retailers are now doing so to drive quick revenue over this tough period. Promotions are the quickest and often most effective way to achieve this in a short space of time. If this is something you are considering, here is some guidance on where you might start. 


Options for how and what to promote are often the same as your usual tool box: sitewide discounting, discounting on certain collections or brands, VIP previews to a sale that was planned already, or further discounting on sale items. With discounting items already on sale, while this is tempting as a first port of call, do keep in mind that these styles may be on sale for a reason that is not pricepoint related, and may have been browsed in volume by customers previously, so may not be as effective a lure as discounts on products that still have the perception of full price value. 


If you are curating collections specifically for the promotion to ensure that you have control around exclusions and therefore margin, we would recommend that the collection(s) are tied up with a succinct message and theme to give all of your communications consistency, on email and social media (think “giving you lockdown love” or similar!) Although not essential, if you're not opting for a full sitewide promotion, collection curation may be worth considering to avoid any customer frustration and customer service queries if you have exclusions that customers are likely to pick up on. As in our first section, this is not a time to ignore the details when it comes to clarity! Customer confusion will not do you any favours!  


Any sales around this time do require some delicacy, and many businesses are opting to acknowledge the stress and pressure on the community as part of the sale messaging. This could be more like “our gift to you” messaging, OR offering “thank you for being part of our community/ supporting us”. Both messages add more human elements to the objective to drive sales, but are worth considering carefully before finally your message. (If you're unsure about this, don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’re here to brainstorm!) 

 

For many businesses, this may be dependent on the situation with stock you are holding, and whether it can support promotional activity. 


This is also a much harder tactic to tap into if your brand messaging and your story are intrinsically linked with full price messaging only. 


If a sitewide sale is going to be hugely damaging to margin, we may have to get more creative, or if you're struggling with not being aligned with promotional activity, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us! 


Ask For Help


As mentioned, no one has a key to ensuring business survival during this time. The above will hopefully be helpful, or spark ideas of your own as to how you can strategise for the current climate. If not, explore any support you have available to you! This may be in the form of your agency, any customer success managers, your wider business community and any forums you are a part of. We will be looking to keep channels of communication on this subject open, so welcome your questions, and stay tuned! 

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