I’ve been impressed by the efforts of many retailers over the past couple of months to quickly deploy new capabilities to allow some level of ongoing commerce while also dealing with the complexity and unknowns around Covid-19. As we outlined in a prior blog, “You Don’t Have to See the Whole Staircase,” it may have been slightly easier for small, local retailers to turn on a dime and quickly develop new ways of keeping their lights on and customers engaged. But despite their larger size and more complex infrastructures, even some medium-sized and larger retailers that had no or limited omnichannel capabilities have been nimble and agile, and in many cases developed “scrappy” processes and approaches to at least provide options for shopping and customer service. Curbside pickup is likely the best-known example.

Some of these have certainly been works in process—they may not be pretty and likely are not sustainable. But it’s something, and it works for now. These quickly developed means of “safe” shopping attract customers and add revenue. So, kudos for teams that developed quick solutions—this clearly required hard work, leadership, and creativity. After all, in today’s environment, the ability to serve customers and support a banner or brand that would be struggling even further without these new capabilities is a big win.

Whether you as a retailer had strong omnichannel capabilities or were just at the starting point, it’s clear that some of the new areas of focus such as curbside pickup are here to stay. However, there is a level of staffing, logistics, and collaboration that is above and beyond what most retail store models are prepared for. Further, the organizational and role impacts, as well as change implications across various operational aspects, can be significant.

Since few will be willing to invest significantly in new technology—at least for a while, retailers must be highly cognizant that their store associate roles and operational processes will continue to change dramatically over the next month and year.  This change won’t be subtle. We believe that sustaining the ability to test, assess, learn, revise, and repeat—and ensure the communications with your store teams are wide open to keep them informed of these continual changes and engaged as your internal brand ambassadors—will be the difference between those brands who succeed and those who fail.

What do you do next? How do you move from scrappy to excellent and continue delighting your customers? Just as important, how do you avoid making mistakes and negatively impacting customer experience? “Scrappy” is ok when it has to be, but it can also be a recipe for disaster if it becomes, well, scrappy without the “S.”

To keep the focus on the “S,” here are six components that are imperative in today’s omni-channel shopping environment, especially with curbside in the post-Covid-19 world:

  1. Focus on SERVICE. Acknowledge orders, questions, and feedback. Over-communicate with your customers and associates. Focus on beating expectations, with appropriate speed and desired convenience. Even though we predict that consumer demand to shop will be strong in many ways, understand that some customers may be nervous or hesitant about re-entering your stores. Equip and empower your associates to make decisions that maintain the highest level of customer service.
  2. Where possible, keep it SIMPLE. Avoid excess complexity, especially in customer experience. Use fewer steps and make things easy to understand.
  3. In today’s environment, above all, ensure the process is SAFE. Make it easy to maintain distance in and around your stores. If possible, encourage contactless transactions. Provide customers options for masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes—and keep them required for associates, for now. But don’t make it scary. Make sure your signage and any PPE worn by employees reflects messaging that is welcoming, assuring, and calming—keep this in mind when determining colors, wording, and font choices you are using.
  4. Have a SUPPORT model. Respond to questions and concerns—from both customers and associates. It is important to be able to effectively manage returns, and ensure your reverse processes follow other customer-centric guidelines: service, simple, safe. Ensure stability across channels and touch points.
  5. Keep it all SEAMLESS, across website, mobile, store, and now—including your parking lot and curbside. Remove barriers to service, speed, and completing the transaction.
  6. Finally, ensure SUSTAINMENT. In addition to key customer-facing processes, review your back-office processes and tools. What foundational elements need to be changed to sustain your new capabilities across planning, fulfillment, inventory visibility, data/attributes, analytics, and more?

The curbside experience, combining service and supply chain elements, is new to many retail brands and a challenge to all. Several retailers I’ve visited have a few of the above elements going well, yet very few are hitting on all of them as well as they could—and I’m sure they would agree. As with all omni capabilities, success combines the shopping experience (website, mobile, etc.), store operations, inventory visibility, customer service, CRM, and more, with tight integration for an ultimate customer experience test.

Store operations functions and processes will continue to evolve over the coming months, and as retail expert Joe Skorupa pointed out in a recent blog, “Retail’s Moonshot Moment: Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity,” it’s critical that retailers acknowledge the changes and the opportunities their teams are facing. Again, these new ways of operating won’t—nor should they—be subtle. The ability to manage these changes well, without bumps, with minimal friction, will be your competitive advantage.

If you’re interested in how you can take advantage of the opportunities that are being presented as the fog from this disruption begins to lift, we would be happy to start a discussion.  The Parker Avery Group has developed a set of “reconstruction” services that are designed to quickly get your business moving in a direction that will provide benefits in the near term as well as strategically in the future:
  • Operational Risk Assessment
  • Business and Technology Roadmap Reinvent
  • Organization Reset
  • Tailored Intelligence

If you would like to talk about any of these services and how they may apply to your situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Wishing you the very best,

Clay

Cover image by Piotr Kowalski from Pixabay