As Safer-At-Home Restrictions Begin to Ease, It’s Time for Retailers to Refine Their Omnichannel Strategies

Total Retail Report

The term “omnichannel” describes a phenomenon where customers experience each of a company’s different sales and marketing channels in a unified fashion. An omnichannel strategy is a plan of action designed to optimize performance by creating a seamless customer experience across all channels and customer touchpoints, from brick-and-mortar to online and mobile web browsing. Successful omnichannel strategies provide customers with flexibility to move fluidly between channels and interact with companies through multiple touchpoints (e.g., customers may research a product online but prefer to purchase the product in person, or vice versa). And with more consumers shopping from home for curbside pickup or on-demand delivery, a shift toward an omnichannel framework for retailers is more important than ever.

As of May 20, all 50 states had begun to ease their safer-at-home restrictions. However, the degree to which each state, as well as the counties in those states, will “re-open” varies drastically. For example, South Carolina let amusement parks, water parks, mini-golf and similar attractions reopen in time for Memorial Day weekend. In Kentucky, gift shops were allowed to open. Across Alaska, bars, restaurants and gyms (many of which had already been seeing customers for weeks) are preparing to return to full capacity.

On the other side of the spectrum, some states and counties are taking a slower approach. For example, retailers in Los Angeles County, California were originally banned from letting customers in their stores and were only permitted to operate delivery and curbside pickup. However, as of May 27, Los Angeles retailers that adopt the county’s safety protocols will be allowed to operate at 50 percent customer capacity. While this comes as much-needed relief for many small businesses in Los Angeles, many retailers remain without a clear path to recovery.

These varying restrictions across the country, combined with the uncertainty of future restrictions, underscore the importance of implementing a refined omnichannel strategy for retail establishments looking to legally, efficiently and seamlessly fulfill their customers’ needs.

Strong omnichannel strategies for retailers should focus on providing a fluid customer experience throughout all stages of our country’s reopening. A key component of this is a strong digital presence. Until every state and county are given the green light to fully reopen, retailers across all verticals will need to lean on their online marketing strategies to get them through these difficult times. Accordingly, retailers should polish their websites and update their product listings to keep consumers up-to-date with their latest offerings. Social media advertisements should be used. If implemented successfully, these online sales may mitigate some of the losses to traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Retailers should also reassess their customer loyalty programs, and not only with respect to perks or points for purchases. Establishing cashier-less checkouts where practical, publicizing the safety measures you recently implemented, and/or making return policies and procedures more flexible are just few ways to show your customers that you care about their safety and well-being, and that your business is fully prepared to meet their needs regardless of current challenges.

Retailers should also commit to refining their logistics operations, with the goal of establishing complementary inventory, order placement and order fulfillment protocols that take advantage of eased safer-at-home restrictions, where applicable. For example, retailers with storefronts, warehouses and/or manufacturing sites in different states or counties should develop plans that coordinate and utilize the strengths of certain segments to overcome their individual weaknesses. If your warehouse workers in one county aren't allowed to go back to work, your storefront in a different county may be able help fulfill some of those online orders. Identifying and optimizing these complementary relationships between retail segments and channels will prove vital to retailers across the country.

However, with all new or refined endeavors come risks, including with respect to consumer privacy and fair and nondeceptive advertising in the Internet of Things.

“As Safer-At-Home Restrictions Begin to Ease, It’s Time for Retailers to Refine Their Omnichannel Strategies,” by Ana Tagvoryan and Dustin Moaven was published in Total Retail Report on June 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.