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Here’s How You Support Your Customers and Protect Your Employees Amidst the Coronavirus Outbreak

  • March 24, 2020

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic. 4 days later, on March 15, Nike released a notice saying that their retail shops will be closed until the end of the month. Soon, other big brands like Primark, Glossier, Urban Outfitters have followed suit and have shut down their shops indefinitely to avoid any further outbreak of the virus.

To fight the Coronavirus, the governments of the countries around the world began by locking down all the major cities, and have now locked down whole countries. That’s right! Coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill. People cannot get out of their homes anymore unless they have an emergency, companies have asked their employees to work from home, and daily wage workers have been requested to stop working till the pandemic is sorted out.

Coronavirus and The Retail Industry

No other type of occupation has been hit hard more than the retail industry as their very nature of business depends on people getting out of their houses and come in groups to their shops. So, when a brick and mortar company like Primark has to temporarily close their shops, it will have a huge impact not only on their revenue but also on their relationship with their customers and employees.  So, without trying to scare you, we humbly request you to rethink and redesign how you can still run your business operations without alienating your customers and your employees.

As mentioned earlier, people are staying home and avoiding places. So, one of the obvious ways for omnichannel retailers to be connected with their customers and their employees is through eCommerce.  As per the survey conducted by Econsultancy and Marketing Week, among 2200 marketers a week ago, almost 71% of the UK have predicted eCommerce usage among consumers will increase as a result of coronavirus. Though this might seem relatively positive, the retailers still need to be wary of investing in e-commerce because the success rate of doing so depends on the nature of the sector. Here, you can see how eCommerce consultant Dan Barker highlights the difference in impact across different retail categories.

Without surprise, Food and grocery sector looks like the one set to benefit the most. People are buying food and groceries online more now more than they usually would. Even though Italy was the major country ordering food and groceries at the time this survey was taken, it is widely expected that other countries will soon follow suit. So now is the high time, people will look up to you to help them tackle the issue in hand. They need help and you as a retailer can take this opportunity to thank them for their years of loyalty.

How retailers around the world are tackling the issue

There is a huge demand for eCommerce retailers, but in the eyes of the industry leaders, these benefits are only short-term, owing to stock and supply chain issues that are soon to arise. So, it is very important that if you are going online, then you have to do it immediately. But at the same time, please ensure that you do not promote panic buying and cause any sort of damage to your customers.

The demand for online retailers is so high that on Amazon, customers are ready to pay exorbitant amounts to buy health and sanitization products like disinfectant and face masks. As a result, third party retailers who sell these essentials have unfairly ramped up their prices leading to a ban from Amazon. This action was applauded by the customers as now is no time for sellers to take unfair advantage of their customers and Amazon standing with their customers only proves why they are at the top.

Let us give you another example of how you can do it without tainting your relationship you’re your customers and employees. JD.com, when questioned how they were able to tackle the issue as efficiently as they are doing now, replied that they learned from its experience of operating during the SARS outbreak. So, this time, when the breakout happened, they took steps early on to reduce the impact on employment from coronavirus, while also ensuring that it can keep up with customer demand. Some of the actions included partnering with restaurants to hire additional couriers, hiring employees from temporarily closed supermarkets, and creating new logistics-based jobs.

Another example is Morrisons, a prominent name in the UK retail industry. They announced that they are creating an extra 3,500 jobs to help deal with the newfound demand because of the coronavirus.

How to treat your customers and employees

Sensible communication is the need of the hour. It could either make you or break you. Moving forward, retailers need to be highly mindful of how they communicate with both their customers and their employees. If your customers sniff out or even have an iota of a doubt that you are overtly capitalizing on the coronavirus or sensationalizing the situation, then rest assured that you have successfully lost them forever.

We’ve already seen social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter cracking down on spreading fake news; Twitter is deleting any tweets that feed misinformation about the pandemic and Facebook issuing bans on advertisements that refer to coronavirus with a sense of urgency.

As retailers are careful in how they communicate, they also need to be both transparent and vocal about how they are planning to deal with the issues at hand. We have already seen emails being effectively utilized, with the majority of retailers sending out marketing emails to address how they are handling the situation. But you can also use social media and other digital customer support channels to be in touch with your customers.

And coming to delivery for eCommerce retailers, once again communication-related to delivery practice is of paramount importance for reassuring customers. One of the safeties measures your employees can adopt is ‘no contact’ deliveries, whereby delivery workers leave packages at the door.

And on your websites and social media, you can frequently reiterate the safety precautions your employees take while working.

Let us give you a wonderful example of how a big brand retailer has put its customers first. UK supermarket Iceland has just announced that it will open its stores one hour early so that older shoppers can get what they need.

Louis Vuitton owner, LVMH, is another example of doing great work in these challenging times. The brand has begun using its perfume production lines to make hand sanitizer, which it is sending out to hospitals in France. Elsewhere, retail stores that remain open are taking as many precautionary measures as possible, such as going cashless or staggering entry.

And as far as your employees are concerned, who have bravely come forward to assist you in this situation, you MUST follow every safety procedure to ensure that they are in no way affected at the workplace. For example, you can discontinue any assistance services that require contacts such as beauty trials and makeovers. You can also put on hold any product testers. Additionally, for your employees at the store, you can impart online training, which they can access on their mobile phones. Besides, you can transition to minimal or variable staffing until the situation improves.

Conclusion

Though we have listed out many options that retailers can put into action immediately, one must remember that this is all easier said than done. For the retailers who have shut down their shops, it will be a case of making use of stock. And of all the approaches to save their business, the most lucrative seems to be eCommerce. They can perhaps use clever PR to both create awareness and to increase traffic.

All of these issues are likely to be dealt with on a rolling basis, especially as the situation is continuously changing. And with you, the retailers, anxiously looking forward to the new rules for the industry, which may take even months to arrive here, please remember – your customers and your employees are looking up to you more than ever to help them, while at the same time expecting you to be responsible. So, no matter how you deal with the issues at hand, the priority right now is the thousands of lives and the millions in the near future that will be at stake. Therefore, you must take the utmost care to not further spread any panic surrounding the pandemic.