In recent years, retail has experienced severe turbulence and lived with continuous predictions of its imminent death. The pandemic seemed to deliver the final blow, but here we are—after a sharp decline in consumer demand, tough business choices, and dozens of bankruptcies, retail is still alive yet a bit different.
It’s not that the pandemic started new trends in commerce but it certainly accelerated those in progress, like retail software development, omnichannel approach, and customer centricity. Before the pandemic, the undertakings connected with digitization were planned to be completed in a few years. A sudden business disruption and the instant move to online of almost everything did the trick—a few years turned into a few weeks.
Naturally, digital-friendly retailers were more flexible to adapt to the new conditions in the shortest time possible. At the same time, each business, even such retail behemoths as Amazon and Alibaba, had to ask themselves why they existed, whether it made sense to continue as they were, what to get rid of, and how to go on. Here are a few stories of how different retailers managed to adapt to the new normal, prepare for the long term, and even grow.
GAP: caring means growing
GAP decided to make a difference both in B2C and B2B. First, they thought about what their customers wanted at the moment and decided to strengthen their positions when it comes to safety, speed, and convenience.
Like many other savvy retailers, the company introduced a buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) option and went a step further by introducing the so-called ‘doorbell’ feature. It alerts shop assistants about the customer’s arrival so there’s no need to make a call. Shop assistants bring out the order and can place it in the car’s trunk or back seat. What’s more, the retailer used some of its family brands to experiment with one-to-one online styling sessions to keep their employees busy and let them use their knowledge while providing personalized experience for their customers.
GAP also decided to take care of employees, not only its own, but of other companies’ as well. They expanded their manufacturing efforts to produce reusable (and stylish!) cloth masks and launched a B2B portal in just five weeks where their partners and customers could place bulk orders. Since April 2020, the company has sold $225 million worth of masks and brought in an impressive number of new customers.
Domino’s Pizza: best-in-class delivery
Even before the pandemic, Domino’s experimented a great deal with its delivery options. In 2019, they started testing the option of picking up pizza without entering the store—at that time an ideal solution for time-pressed customers. In 2020, this option suddenly made a new sense and turned into a ‘carside’ delivery, with pizza being placed into the car’s trunk by a restaurant assistant.
It’s worth mentioning that in recent years Domino’s innovated not only pizza toppings but also ordering options. As a result, it’s now possible to order a Margarita via a mobile app, messengers, social media accounts, smart TV, smart watch, you name it. What’s more, with the help of GPS hotspots, the company can deliver orders to non-addressed locations, like parks, benches, or beaches. Domino’s also tests drones and autonomous vehicles for truly contactless delivery.
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee: moving human connection online
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is a coffee chain that employs people with disabilities. It enjoyed a great public response from the very opening and thrived on human connection, which made it something more than just a place to grab a coffee. When the pandemic hit, coffee shops had to close their doors and furlough employees, for whom that place was the only opportunity to get a job. So, the owners had to think hard about how to rebuild their business model and recreate their chemistry online—they just couldn’t go bankrupt.
Once they received their relief loan from the government, they offered their employees various responsibilities to manage from home, from hand-written notes for customers to social media conversations about coffee. To connect coffee shop assistants with customers and streamline their communication, the owners set up a help center where it was possible to track orders and access important information, launched a chatbot for instant personalized connection with customers, and used a marketing automation tool to run social media and email campaigns.
CarMax: omnichannel is the new normal
It’s hard to predict what products or services will be of need during the next crisis. During the pandemic, while most businesses struggled, used car retailers woke up to new customers who couldn’t visit closed car dealership centers yet wanted to buy a private vehicle to limit the instances of using public transport.
There was a small catch though—customers needed a perfect online shopping experience. While many car retailers were slow on the digital transformation uptake, some already embraced the importance of connecting brick-and-mortar and digital experiences. Like CarMax, the largest US retailer of used cars. Their investment into omnichannel development let their customers choose and buy cars online, in-store, or using all of the available channels.
As a result, the retailer was fully prepared for changes brought by the pandemic. In addition to retail-like experiences rendered online, CarMax enhanced safety measures both for customers and their employees. Once possible, buyers could visit local stores where extensive safety measures were taken and inspect a vehicle on their own and take a test drive without an assistant present inside the car. CarMax also launched its own curbside pickup in just a few weeks, which let customers complete all the necessary processes online and buy their vehicles in a contactless way.
Technologies are universal enablers
The current disruption has proved that investing in agile technologies seems to be the best way to prepare for the unknown. Many retail businesses managed to pivot using technologies even without being digital-native in the first place. However, those who were already harnessing retail software and tools were most prepared to make changes in the shortest time possible, while protecting their employees and keeping up with customers.