How can retailers prepare for a post-COVID-19 world?

By David Perrotta, Country Manager UK/Group Head of Customer Experience at Planet.

It’s no secret that the retail sector is suffering right now. Many retailers have completely closed their store fronts due to the Covid-19 lockdown, causing consumer spending to drop to levels not witnessed since the 2008 financial collapse.

What has become clear is that the pandemic has raised fundamental questions around brand identity, marketing and in-store experience. The immediate challenge retailers will face once lockdown has been lifted will be selling to consumers in a hyper-cautious environment. They will have to find the right balance of creating a customer experience that doesn’t compromise consumers’ and employee’s health and safety – all the while protecting and continuing to adhere to their core brand proposition. So, how should retailers adapt to the new normal?

Priority 1: embed health and safety into the spending experience 

Retailers need to reevaluate their instore experience to ensure that they are creating a safe environment for employees and spenders. This could mean the need to wear masks and gloves, as well as offer sanitization gels. Although this may be seen as ‘unfashionable’, retailers need to acknowledge that the spending experience is much more than a dazzling shop front.

It is the attention given to individual customers that makes shopping one of the most pleasurable activities to do while travelling. The practice of wearing gloves and masks is already commonplace in China, and for Chinese spenders it is seen as a sign of respect in this current climate. There is a lot to be learnt about the new hygiene factors that will influence the retail experience, but early adopters who clearly communicate their brand proposition with consumers and employees will be the brands that survive and thrive in a post-COVID-19 environment.

Priority 2: adopt digital practices and cashless payments

Digital platforms are already key for brands who want to engage with customers during COVID-19 and will continue to be so in the months following it for both domestic and international spenders. Livestreaming ‘We are open’ via social channels including Instagram, Facebook and WeChat will alert consumers that brands are open for business.

When international spenders eventually return, they may prefer to use cashless payment options for hygiene reasons and retailers need to ensure they are well equipped to accept the latest international payments methods. Including WeChat Pay and AliPay.

It will be a case of who wins the share of wallet in a reduced tourist market. Focusing on building intimate relationships with international shoppers through either virtual ‘clienteling’ or through in-store personal shopping is equally critical in these times given the reduction in expected footfall.

Priority 3: understand your spender audience groups

At Planet, we know that international shoppers are a crucial source of revenue for European retailers and they will continue to be so. Once travel restrictions are lifted in Europe, it won’t be long before global customers return to premier global shopping destinations.

It is more important than ever that brands remain attuned to the cultural differences of their international audiences. Retail staff must understand the nuances of the customers they’re selling to and adopt behavioural changes within stores to attract and interact with them. We know that having retail staff undergo cultural training can lead to an increase in sales conversion.

Retailers also need to put digital marketing at the heart of their offer, providing fun, engaging and memorable content to drive footfall. Last year Planet helped 22 luxury brands across Europe serve more than 20 million impressions and delivered over 11,000 targeted international shoppers directly in store. Our campaign data show that targeted digital campaigns delivered to mobile devices can result in a 25% increase in international shopper footfall.

There will definitely be a need for a kinder society as we emerge out of this situation. It will be the retail brands that adapt to this new normal, by connecting with consumers and creating a compelling and compassionate in-store experience that survive.


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