How to Encourage Retail Shopping Post-COVID-19
With vaccines available across the United States and many state leaders lifting restrictions, evidence suggests that many places are inching towards the post-COVID era. Elsewhere, in locations where virus cases remain high, people can still learn lessons from business owners who are operating their businesses safely as the risks gradually decline.
It’s also important to remember that some of the things people started doing during the pandemic will almost certainly carry over into our post-COVID future. Here are some actionable things your business can do to appeal to consumers while keeping them safe.
Entice People With Tempting Deals
Many people lost their jobs during the pandemic or worried that they could become unemployed at any time. As a result, they often avoided any non-essential spending. Since so many things remained unknown, they decided that their spending was one thing remaining largely within their control.
However, things are changing. Recent research of consumers in the United States showed that more than half of respondents anticipate splurging to buy nice things for themselves. About half of those who want to treat themselves intend to do it soon to cope with pandemic fatigue. Beauty products, clothing, and electronics were some of the categories topping their lists.
You can cater to that desire with short-term sales designed to get people in the door for the advertised item and make them eager to browse for other stuff. If an on-sale item is in exceptionally high demand, let people know you only have limited quantities and provide the exact number if possible.
However, take care that any deals don’t make the store overly crowded. Consider how measures such as people-counting, timed entry, and physical tickets distributed to shoppers waiting to get certain items could keep occupancy levels safe and low.
Uphold Health and Safety Best Practices
Even once COVID-19 is no longer such a persistent threat, many stores may keep their hand sanitizing stations and stick to the routine of wiping down shopping baskets and carts. Many areas of the world had greatly reduced or virtually nonexistent influenza activity during 2020. Public health experts commonly attributed that change to the mask-wearing, social distancing, and increased hand-washing measures that helped curb COVID-19. Some suggest that it makes good sense to keep doing those things to some extent, such as when people are more likely to catch colds.
More recently, some store owners in places where governors lifted mask mandates opted to continue requiring customers to wear face coverings.
Think about how many customers may have more peace of mind if you continue to abide by health and safety best practices, despite governments no longer requiring it. Besides making people more comfortable, it could safeguard your reputation. After all, when you keep following procedures, consumers will get the impression that you provide a safe environment for shopping while perceiving other places with fewer precautions as riskier.
Launch Local Promotions
Most people are well aware that the pandemic hit small businesses especially hard. Many closed for months, leaving everyone who frequented them wondering if and when they’d reopen. Reminding consumers that you operate a locally owned small business could be a fantastic way to get them eagerly giving you business again.
Relatedly, you could kick off campaigns specifically for people in the immediate area.
Think about creating maps for the business to enrich your understanding of the local area. For example, you could use them to define your key markets based on where people live or their willingness to travel. Maps can also remind you of competitor locations. You could then let that information shape the promotions you rely on to urge people to choose your company over other options.
Tailor your promotions to what people will likely find attractive. For example, if the weather forecast shows warmer-than-average temperatures arriving late next week, you might have a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale on items people use outdoors.
Alternatively, perhaps you own a pet store and know that the local animal shelter recently had an adoption drive. Then, you could have a sale geared toward people who have new furry companions. Discounts may even exist for those who can prove they adopted recently.
Provide Resources to Help People Plan Their Trips
Before the COVID-19 pandemic and during it, many consumers preferred having as many details as possible to make their shopping experiences as smooth and enjoyable as possible. As you explore how to help your business succeed in post-COVID-19 times, investigate ways to assist consumers with trip planning.
For example, Lidl grocery stores in Ireland provided a chatbot that uses real-time data to tell people the busiest, average, or quietest times to shop. Knowing that became crucial during the pandemic, but it’s handy information at any time.
Another option is to give customers access to an online database that tells an estimated or exact number of items in stock. Perhaps a person wants to improve their home workouts by purchasing a kettlebell set. A system could show that there are two available or give a more generalized alert that fewer than five remain. Then, the individuals will be more likely to come into the store sooner rather than later.
Remember that some people stayed extremely isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, often because they had health conditions that elevated their risk. Those individuals and others may feel extremely anxious about retail shopping, even once doing it is relatively safe.
Doing whatever you can to keep people informed will help them stay more comfortable while in your store, especially if they can plan when to visit.
Offer an Easy Returns Process
You may find that some people show an ongoing hesitation to do some of the shopping-related activities they engaged in without question before the pandemic. Trying on products before buying them is one example. Research published in January 2021 showed that 71% of those polled did not feel safe testing beauty products in stores. Similarly, 62% felt that way about apparel.
It’s too early to say when people might become more open to doing those things again. Some individuals are more conscious of shared surfaces than before, which explains the reluctance to try things on in a store. One of the most proactive things you can do now is ensure it’s as easy as possible for people to return merchandise they don’t want after all.
For example, one option used at some stores is to immediately send shoppers receipts via email during the checkout process. Then, they don’t have to worry if the paper copy gets lost and they need to bring something back.
Another possibility is to allow people to exchange items with the tags on, even if they don’t have proof of purchase. That works well if shoppers want a different size or color but are happy with the product otherwise.
When consumers understand that they can return products without hassle, they’ll be more willing to purchase things and try them on at home. If you move ahead with any major changes to make your returns policy more applicable in the post-COVID-19 world, be sure to publicize them thoroughly. Increased public awareness of more convenience regarding returns should increase consumer confidence.
Make Customers Your Top Concerns
Most people who dealt with all the challenges associated with COVID-19 had never faced anything similar before. That means some of them remain edgy and exhausted, even with more hope on the horizon due to numerous vaccines.
Besides following the suggestions here, think about what other things you could do to reassure customers that you value their business and care about keeping them safe. Showing those commitments pays off at any time, but especially as people adjust to life after COVID-19.
The future looks brighter for many, but it contains unknowns. Taking actions to help shoppers feel better equipped in the new normal is a great way to help your business succeed in the short and long term.
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. Eleanor was the creative director and occasional blog writer at a prominent digital marketing agency before becoming her own boss in 2018. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and dog, Bear.