It is a very serious time for retailers. Many have been forced to close their doors and furlough or lay off workers in order to stop the spread of coronavirus and maintain social distancing. However, the good news is that online retailers, especially retailers with significant digital footprints, are finding success as consumers move most of their shopping online. Brick-and-mortar retailers are following their lead. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal “The new coronavirus pandemic is deepening a national digital divide, amplifying gains for businesses that cater to customers online, while businesses reliant on more traditional models fight for survival.” But that is changing as brick-and-mortar brands evolve.
Prior to coronavirus, the shift to digital for brick-and-mortars was a “slow-moving trend.” Although prognosticators for more than a decade have speculated that all shopping would move online, the truth was more nuanced as even younger generations’ shopping habits included showrooming and other preferences that relied on actual stores. The shuttering of hundreds of stores nationwide have made those conversations irrelevant for the moment, hastened the move to online for many brick-and-mortar retailers, and, many speculate, led to changes that are likely to be permanent when we return to the new normal.
Bed, Bath And Beyond Successfully Made The Move To A Digital Mindset
Bed, Bath and Beyond very quickly pivoted to an all-in digital approach as soon as coronavirus required them to temporarily close a majority of their brick-and-mortar locations nationwide. By being proactive and getting in front of the problem, Bed, Bath and Beyond was able to offset an expected downturn in overall sales with growth in ecommerce sales — up 90% year over year in April as of a mid-month report.
The home goods store took several steps to ensure a successful transition and embrace an omnichannel approach to digital sales. Bed, Bath and Beyond’s strategy included setting aside capital for investments in BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) and curbside pickup, technological reconfigurations to improve site speed and checkout and the conversion of several locations to fulfillment centers for better delivery options. (11,000 orders have been filled since the implementation of curbside pickup on April 1, with BOPIS rolling out at the brand’s Buy Buy Baby locations this week.)
“If there is a silver lining, I would say that given the monumental changes we've made to our business over the past four weeks, our ability to act decisively, partner up and move with speed and agility has been greatly enhanced,” said Mark Tritton, President and CEO of Bed, Bath and Beyond. “I'm very proud of the ideas, inspiration and commitment that all our associates have made to serve our customers and our business.”
Effective Brand Messaging To Reach Audiences Should Be Authentic And Helpful
Bed, Bath and Beyond has had off-the-charts success with sales of bread machines and vacuums. The brand was able to move online, but still provide the same products and services they did before coronavirus. During uncertain times, consumers want the comfort and ease of finding something where they expect to find it, even if they are more understanding about delays and supply chain issues.
If a brand chooses to make a digital push during this crisis period, messaging should be true to the brand’s identity and tuned into what consumers may be feeling. This isn’t the time to announce exciting new plans for your brand’s digital future. A recent blog post on Shopify noted, “During the coming weeks, brands need to be sensitive to consumers’ needs and rethink their marketing and advertising. That might mean pausing certain campaigns for certain products, and adjusting the copy and creative on ads to better speak to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
By meeting audiences where they are with what they need, brands can be helpful and appropriate during a crisis.
Targeting Consumers With Promotions, Rewards And Social Media Engagement
Although it is paramount that brands not appear to be exploiting the current global crisis in any way, there are a number of marketing strategies that traditional brick-and-mortar brands can use to effectively scale online revenues and strengthen consumer engagement:
- Social media use is way up, meaning social can be an effective channel for brands to drive traffic to their websites, share stories about philanthropic endeavors and promote enhanced rewards programs and sales. But brands should not restrict their marketing to social. Most brands should leverage multi-channel digital campaigns, inclusive of display advertising and paid search to drive online traffic.
- Targeted emails, especially to high-intent customers who’ve bought at brick-and-mortar locations in the past, can also be an effective way to increase online sales and encourage lasting brand loyalty throughout and after self-isolation. Brands elevating their digital strategies should consider expanding their email databases to enable regular email engagement to first-party lists.
- Review and update website content to confirm it is reflective of the times. Images of social gatherings may, for instance, discourage the sale of a fire pit. Conversely, a photo of a family spending quality time roasting marshmallows is likely to resonate in the current environment.
- Free shipping, local delivery and extended return/exchange times can drive business and make consumers feel more comfortable buying online.
Brands Should Expect Consumers To Keep Shopping Online, Even After The Economy Re-Opens
Regardless of how long the quarantine lasts, a large swath of consumers will have become far more comfortable ordering online than they were before, whether it’s for groceries, prescriptions or seafood. The dye will be cast, and businesses should continue to optimize their digital strategies to ensure their digital presences meet consumer expectations.
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