Evan Woolard

May 13, 2020

There’s no question that COVID-19 has rocked industries across the globe, and retail is one of those hit hardest by the pandemic. If consumers have been told to stay at home for the last two months, how on earth could anyone prioritize going to the store for anything more than necessities like groceries?

 

Many retail organizations, every-day names like JCPenney and Neiman Marcus among them, were in trouble even BEFORE the outbreak, and are having to consider taking drastic action (aka Chapter 11 bankruptcy) to survive. J.Crew made headlines in early May doing just that.

 

But the temporary effects of this pandemic will hit more than just retailers’ Q2 earnings reports. This pandemic is going to have a much longer-lasting impact. Some experts predict that more than half of all mall-based department stores will be forced to shut their doors by the end of 2021.  

 

So, what can we as marketers do try to mitigate the negative effects of virus on our retail clients? How can we learn from past experience such as the SARS outbreak in 2003 to adapt to what will surely be changed landscape?

 

 

Understand Your Shopper

As marketers, the first rule of Fight Club is: understand the perspective of your customer. What do they want? How do they get there? Do they still think references to the movie Fight Club will resonate in 2020?

 

For retailers in particular, this is critical, because the priorities of the average shopper have shifted. Health and safety are now top of mind, even for a purchase as basic as conference call sweatpants. The shift to online buying has only been accelerated by the outbreak.

 

Your user personas should typically be updated when either your business or your customer patterns change, and COVID-19 has transformed both. 

 

Now is the time to reconsider what you know about your target buyer.

To help get you started, Phase 3 created a persona worksheet to help get in the user’s frame of mind.

 

 

The Holidays are Critical

This one a little obvious – it’s no secret that the holiday season has been make-or-break for retailers for years. But hear me out.

 

Last year’s holiday season was… well, pretty average, with only a 4.1% growth over 2018. Even though peak season is still six months away, what’s happening NOW will have a direct effect on what consumers will find in their stockings. For the shopper, as jobless claims continue to pile up, consumer discretionary spending could be at its lowest in years. For the retailer, it could take months for supply chains to rebound.

 

All of that is bad news for what’s considered to be the Super Bowl for many retailers, who count on November and December alone to make up 30% of their annual revenue. For marketers, planning for the holidays – from campaign development to product distribution – starts now. That brings me to my third point.

 

 

The Only REAL Plan – be Flexible

So much can, and will, happen in the next several months. Even news from two weeks ago seems irrelevant. And while we can infer what will happen based on past experiences, COVID-19 has been quite unlike anything my generation has ever seen. I personally have had marketing plans developed and scrapped within 48 hours.

 

For marketers, we’ll need to be flexible and nimble.

Understand that there are marketing tools that have helped us prepare to be agile – it’s time to use them. Leverage online platforms like Hubspot to quickly update customer communications and your online presence. Utilize digital printing solutions to purchase and procure items like signage for your store (for those who haven’t seen, my colleague Amanda wrote a great piece about how critical your signage is for your customer right now).

 

Above all, know that no marketing strategy is ever set in stone. We’ve always been taught to adapt to changing market conditions. This is no different – we’re just doing it with sweatpants on.

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