2020 . 05 . 12 | written by Karen Marin

Add to my selection





Retail is facing its biggest catastrophe ever since governments all over the world imposed mandatory store shutdowns following the outbreak of COVID-19. As countries begin to emerge from confinement, what measures can stores take to bring the customer back? How can online strategies support the stores? In our ongoing series on Best Practices to survive a crisis, this article covers specific actions retailers can take to coax consumers back into the store.

At this point, numerous countries have been in lockdown for roughly two months. The economic situation has crumbled, many people have lost their job, or they are temporarily unemployed. Consequently, money is tight, and spending has been reserved for essentials. In addition, consumers are price sensitive, but they also look for value for money spent. Color cosmetics and fragrance have been the hardest hit segments in beauty, but since beauty, and having beautiful things, reinforces our self-esteem, our confidence, our morale, and our mood it is a resilient category and will be one of the first to bounce back. In prior recessions it has been shown that people will find a way to purchase small, affordable, feel-good luxuries which give them joy after months of deprivation. This time around, however, Leonard Lauder’s “lipstick effect” will probably not ring true for lipstick if most of the world is wearing masks. For the most part, luxury goods consumers are expected to show restraint, investing in fewer things but of the utmost quality. Optimistic Gen Z and Gen Xers who have been flush the past few years, are expected to be the most likely to go on extravagant, devil-may-care shopping sprees.

As stores open their doors again, consumers will have different comfort levels when they go out shopping. Retailers need to be prepared for the over-zealous shopper, who has a pent-up desire to be out again, and the reluctant ones who would rather stay in the safety of their homes. The “new normal” does not correspond to the existing retail environment, meaning there has to be rapid change with a new protocol in place from Day One. The overarching priority is to ensure the entire operation is compliant with new health and hygiene guidelines and that this information is communicated to the consumer so they feel safe in the store. The National Retail Federation, the largest retail trade association in the world with over 45 member countries, has launched a campaign called “Operation Open Door” complete with checklist on how to prepare the store. Here are some best practices to consider:

• Station a greeter to meet customers or place signage at the entry to explain the new shopping protocol
• Limit the number of entry and exit points, if applicable, and stagger entry to store
• Limit store hours to peak times
• Limit the number of customers in the store -consider booking appointments if needed
• Station hand sanitizer for staff and consumer use
• Sanitize high-contact areas on a regular, scheduled basis throughout the day
• Prioritize cashless and no-contact card payments
• Promote “click & collect” or pre-ordering with curbside pickup if feasible

For the immediate future, the purpose of the store will morph from experiential places to meet, hang out and interact into transactional locations. Don’t be surprised if consumers want to come in and get out quickly. With time, and as shoppers become more at ease, the physical store will once again become a place of discovery, where shoppers learn about new brands and products and exchange with a knowledgeable staff.

Romance it – don’t sterilize it

As shopkeepers put new protocols into place, they must also think about the customer experience. Now is the time to be more creative than ever before. If you’re going to put the above list into place, and you want to encourage customers back into the shop, then you must romance it and create a welcoming, attractive ambiance rather than a sterile environment. Have a check-in area outfitted with hand sanitizer, gloves or whatever is required by your government’s guidance. Make it a ritual in line with your brand: if hand soap is in your assortment, make this into an opportunity to try the product. Take inspiration from the Turkish custom of offering kolonya to refresh guests who enter homes or shops: the customer is your guest. Next, bring shoppers to a discovery area where they can learn about new products or collections geared to the season. It will give them a distraction should they need to wait either for assistance or due to social distancing.
Larger shops can think of collaborating with a restaurant to allow a food truck or take away stand in the adjacency. A dedicated space, kiosk or booth can be erected to facilitate “click & collect” order pick-up. Even having an entertainer with the greeter, if lines to get in the shop are long, will enhance the experience.
The onus is clearly on the retailer to simplify the process of getting in the store while amusing and surprising the customer. If it’s worth the inconvenience, people will come. Just think of how disruptive airport security standards became following 9/11 and the shoe bomber, but people still travelled.

Service and New Rituals
Retailers must bring back their best and most experienced salespeople right away. These individuals are product experts who know how to give superior service and cultivate a client relationship, all while being an ambassador for the shop. The focus will be on encouraging existing customers to spend again rather than on acquiring new ones. Keeping in touch by phone, email, WhatsApp and text messaging maintains an ongoing dialogue that may turn into sales.
These salespeople will also be critical in taking the customer through the new shopping ritual, especially for beauty. Although every country has different policies, most have currently suspended makeup applications and spa services. A new protocol must be developed to allow makeup artists to use brushes so in the meantime, no touch consultations are in force. Some countries have authorized the use of makeup face charts, blank pages with the image of a face on which the salesperson can use disposable applicators to color in features and demonstrate techniques.

Testers & Sampling
Fragrance and Beauty have the added challenge of figuring out how to test product in a safe way. Some countries will allow salespeople to give out blotters spritzed with fragrance only if the customer requests it. Since wearing a mask inhibits the ability to smell, sampling will become even more important. Brands may consider providing bulk juice if shops have the ability to dram samples on demand. For Beauty, in most cases customers cannot test mascara or lipsticks, and no testers in jars can be used. All testers have to be wiped down following demonstration. Predictably, virtual makeup tools will become essential to close sales. Individual, hermetically sealed sample pods for fragrance, makeup and skincare will gain favor due to purity and efficacy.

New Service Concepts

The surge in online shopping across all categories is expected to continue even as countries come out of confinement. Whether driven by convenience or resulting from anxiety at the thought of entering shops, consumers have embraced this channel and have made shifts in their purchasing habits. Online beauty sales are contributing upwards of 20% in some cases, and they will be increasingly more important in the post-COVID world. Business as usual is dead and gone as innovative online actions offer the consumer a new and heightened level of service.
Two beauty and skincare companies who have branded boutiques come to mind. Bare Minerals selected a group of top beauty advisors to offer pre-booked one-on-one consultations by phone or video. They also provided tips, tricks and sold products via text and WhatsApp messaging. The service was reported to be a tremendous help to customers who weren’t used to navigating the digital world. Likewise, disruptor skincare brand Deciem deployed top salespeople to provide virtual consultations on video chat and instant messaging. Consumers could send images of their skincare concern to then get a recommendation of products, regimen and application techniques. Even if these are big companies, the concept can be executed at a smaller level.
In other developments, livestream broadcasting events have been implemented not only to launch products but also to build the community. The Paris-based fragrance boutique Nose has hosted live Instagram sessions with perfumers, musicians, and artists as a way to connect with consumers who are isolated.

Spark the drive to store
A store’s e-commerce site is a flexible source of information, entertainment, and temptation for the consumer, over and above being a place to order goods. It also houses a wealth of data that, if effectively managed and analyzed, provides a wealth of opportunities for the retailer to create targeted CRM strategies. Communication can be personalized to be uniquely relevant to the recipient.
Campaigns to push luxury goods are most effective at priming the customer to come back into the store, and the effort should be coordinated with social media and stores themselves. Those customers who do buy premium goods online are entitled to a premium purchase and service experience as well. Their journey from discovery to purchase must be seamless, luxurious, and uncomplicated. Encourage them to visit the store with added value propositions, such as access to exclusive items or even private VIP shopping hours.

Undoubtedly retailers are facing an enormous test. Get it right and survive but get it wrong and flounder. Consumers are going to be more discerning than ever when they decide on the shops they will visit. Mediocrity, in service, in product, in standards, will fall by the wayside. After being isolated consumers will want to be greeted warmly and welcomed into the store where they will discover desirable goods. The wise words of Harry Gordon Selfridge still ring true today:

“Excite the mind and the hand will reach for the pocket.”

For more information on “Operation Open Door” visit the NRF website.