If you're in retail in any sector no amount of quantitative easing is going to get customers back to the high street or shopping mall, in particular when the overriding message from government and health officials is to create a mood of continued physical social isolation that 'could' last for 3-4 months (possibly longer) at the very least.
Since March 2020 when this crisis broke every citizen in every country has been drip fed the message 'stay at home'.
Compared with the same period in 2019, footfall was down 45.3% on the first day of reopening in England, according to retail analyst firm Springboard.
Several big brands have been struggling due to the lockdown measures introduced in March to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Cath Kidston, Laura Ashley and the UK arm of Victoria's Secret have all called in administrators. Last week, Poundstretcher announced that it has launched a company voluntary arrangement, an insolvency process that allows companies to continue trading while pushing through store closures and rent cuts.
One of the key principles in retail is the ability for a brand to create 'retail theatre' which is something that in my opinion seems to have gone missing and replaced by a purely transactional and bland experience.
Your brand in the 'physical retail' world is experienced by not only your shop window, logo, or product but through your store teams.
It's them consumers turn to to ask questions, it's them they turn to when they experience good/bad with your brand.
But as we all know the biggest challenge is how to help to reassure consumers to get back out and shop with you - and this creates a huge opportunity for all retailers today.
We know that prior to this crisis e-commerce led to fewer people coming to our physical stores. All the evidence is there to support the reality that Covid has tipped those already weak retailers into the retail archives.
So, what can retail do to turn this trend around and increase footfall traffic?
All too often we hear about retailers telling us about the commercial and legacy constraints for competing in today's dynamic multi-channel world.
Is this something new, or is it a 'red flag' symptom of a fixed mindset that can't seem to find a way out of the current retail dilemmas?
"To ensure customers visit retail establishments in the future–and that’s measured in months for some, years not decades for others – the retail experience must be structured around the human component".
Critical to this is authentic communication.
The first step is to get back to the basics of delivering on the customer’s wants and needs, building trust, and demonstrating that our appreciation of the individual shopper goes beyond the sum and substance of her transactions.
Retail has always had to work hard at getting people through the doors, this is equally true for all online retailers. In particular with the rise of 'social commerce' which is diverting traffic that would at one time have gone to your website, or that 'marketplace' you chose to sell your good through.
If your company, and your job as a leader is still around post crisis how about investing in upskilling your employees to use social media as way of really providing an authentic voice, rather than the corporate message.
Social Media is no longer an extension of your customer service department. How about using that training to activate at least 10% of the aggregated workforce to give a non brand police view of the really good reasons to work and shop at each of these companies?
Companies whose revenues have been decimated by lack of income have no option but to become fiscally tighter. Consumers are doing something similar in fear of losing jobs, homes, and livelihoods so they're postponing discretionary spend of any kind - it's all filtering through to the worldwide economic infrastructure we once thought was impenetrable.
I've said it before and I will keep saying it that retail in essence is a simple business, today it's the digitally savvy consumer whose in the driving seat.
Take a moment to consider the following industry stats;
- Less than 2% of Employees regularly share or create employer related brand content.
- Over 33% of Employees are unclear on what to post and how it could benefit their employer.
- There is a 561% increase in audience for your brand message when shared by employees vs sharing via the corporate channel.
- 90% of your employee network is new to your brand meaning you are opening up previously untapped audiences.
So when we see retailers (and other businesses) using social platforms as a way to deal with crisis management, or transferring the 'advertise, promote, me, me, me, me' thinking then I wonder if anything is really changing?
Content Discovery via Social Media is one of the ways you can open up new conversations, find groups of 'real' people who are genuinely interested in you, your brand, your employees, and your company and engage with them.
So, what's your strategy to better engage with the consumer via the platform of choice which is social media?
While non-essential retailers have since been allowed to reopen in Northern Ireland and England, analysts have questioned how comfortable customers will feel returning to the shops.