Messaging to Cautious Customers as Coronavirus Cases Surge Again
Coronavirus cases are increasing across a large portion of the US, and retailers must weigh the safety of their employees and customers with their desire to capture revenue. Apple, which was early to close their stores in March, announced that they have re-closed stores in parts of the south and west, proving that retailers must prepare to close again if necessary. Many retailers that are still open, are reporting that customers don’t always comply with safety precautions, which puts them and employees at risk.
For retailers that were hoping that the summer would bring some much-needed foot traffic, it will be important to have a plan for keeping customers informed and everyone safe as rules and store experiences continue to evolve. This plan requires communication across three parts of the customer journey — what they should know and expect before, during, and after their visit to a store (and as a bonus, what they can do if they choose to shop from home or if a store must close.)
What You Should Know Before You Go
Seventy-one percent of customers said that they feel comfortable returning to non-essential retail stores when asked in a survey. But, Gen Z shoppers are much more hesitant, with many saying that they’d wait two weeks or more before returning. People also noted that they wanted to book private dressing rooms to try on merchandise and that they preferred that stores would hold returned items 48 hours before returning them to shelves. That doesn’t account for the 30% of shoppers polled that still do not feel comfortable venturing back.
It’s important to communicate clearly exactly how your store is managing location by location. In addition to posting store hours and occupancy rules on site and in emails, retailers can also talk about the smaller details, for example, how items in the store are sanitized and if there is a contactless payment option.
Consider creating a “What’s it like?” series to get people comfortable with shopping in-store again. Embed a video of the store with people shopping to show the experience up close. Include a link to download contactless payment apps that you offer in your store. If you’ve rearranged things, share a map of the store. Let people know how often you clean, and explain your policies for returns and curbside pickup and delivery.
Walmart is introducing a new checkout process that reduces interaction with cashiers and offers contactless payment options. Starting in their Fayetteville, Ark., store traditional cashier lines have been replaced with high-tech “bays” that allow customers to check out themselves or be helped by a host. This regional experiment is only one of hundreds of changes Walmart has made, and they have a website with videos and FAQs to help communicate with their customers, as well as personalized and localized email marketing. People want to see and understand what they’ll be experiencing before they get there.
What You Should Do When You’re Here
Rather than wait for your employees to referee the customers in store, make sure that customers know what is expected of them. If your policy requires them to wear a mask, remind them in your messaging across channels, and explain why this is important. Costco, for example, is clear that all customers must wear masks and they don’t allow customers in unless they comply. Lowe’s Home Improvement has new ad creatives where all employees are wearing masks.
Personalizing email is a quick way to get customers the information they crave, and to make sure they aren’t misinformed. Consider personalizing emails by location to clearly show customers how they can safely shop with their local store — whether that is BOPIS, an in-store visit, or even a outdoor dining option. Restoration Hardware has cafes in some locations, so they personalized their emails to alert customers to the guidelines for dining outside.
Make It Easy to Picture the Whole Journey
Don’t lose a customer because of their uncertainty about what might happen after they leave your store. If they decide to return an item, make it easy for them to do so without added hassle or risk. Anthropologie has made all returns by mail free to take away a concern that might be stopping shoppers from coming in the first place.
Similarly, determine if it’s feasible to make returns and exchanges happen curbside, so that customers can feel safe and worry free if they get the wrong size or change their mind about the color they like. Target has made curbside shopping particularly easy for customers, and uses SMS push notifications to help customers know their time window and what follow-up options are.
And for customers that aren’t ready, communicating the different options they have is also essential for keeping them engaged. Rather than focus too strongly on in-store options, CVS uses their newsletter to provide information about each option: in-store, curbside, and delivery.
Most importantly, use this time to learn about each customer and improve communication tactics so that they and your employees have the best and safest experience possible. Tailor emails and content so that whatever a customer’s shopping preference, there is a way to keep them informed and engaged.
Gretchen Scheiman is Sr. Director of Marketing for Liveclicker, an advanced personalization platform that helps brands create timely, relevant, engaging moments that inspire action. She has over 15 years of experience in marketing management, building and leading high-performing teams on the client and agency sides. Gretchen specializes in methodical marketing funnel optimization and bringing an analytical perspective to how organizations can best use their resources and talent. Connect with her on LinkedIn.