Three Ways to Connect Better With Customers During Unexpected Turns

The customer journey has taken some unexpected turns as retailers and shoppers navigate the ever-changing rules surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Shoppers grapple with stock-outs and faraway delivery dates, changing store hours, new pickup options, and new rules around online purchases and returns. 

Retailers are expected to cater to customers through it all while dealing with depleted staff, reimagining store footprints and fulfillment like curbside pickup, and uncertainties in the supply chain. Now is a good time to lean a bit more on technology to bear some of the burden. These three best practices can help retailers communicate transparently to their customers at scale with personalized service and alleviate potential confusion as things continue to change.

Streamline E-Commerce Returns 

Already a costly enterprise, retailers have been working to streamline the returns process for some time now, which becomes only more imperative when budgets are tight and time is of the essence. Returns become especially concerning as customers order more but are less likely to actually leave their homes to drop returns at physical shipping locations and actually can’t return at most stores. 

Many companies that have added curbside pickup have also implemented curbside returns. Of the retailers in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 100, 19% have changed their return policy. Some have extended windows for return, while others have stopped allowing returns all together.

Best Buy noted that curbside pickup “also extends to returns and exchanges, the period for which has been extended on most products so that you have more time.” This means shoppers can return products from their cars, even though the electronics retailer is giving them more time. Purchases made March 1 through April 15 at Best Buy now have an extended return period through April 29.

Like many new buying behaviors, changes to return policies now could alter long-term expectations. Weighing long-term changes to return policies such as much longer windows are made much easier when companies have a good view of the costs and trade-offs that result. Shoring up intelligence regarding product restocking, changes in buying behaviors online, and additional logistics costs will help brands plan for how returns will evolve now and later.

Read more: Why CMOs Are Blind to 90% of Their Content Experience

Create a Sensitive Pricing and Promotional Messaging Strategy

Nearly every brand has since sent their obligatory message from the CEO, and 75% of retailers in the Top 100 have messaging on their homepage. However, COVID-19 messaging needs to run much deeper than a few corporate notes. Every customer touchpoint should be reviewed for a possible new messaging approach.

Augie Ray, a Gartner Analyst, recommends a four-part approach to COVID-19-Sensitive marketing. He recommends that retailers engage in scenario planning to get ahead of potential shifts in customer behaviors and needs, but also in sudden changes to available Marketing channels, like Out-of-home or POS.

Retailers should also listen intently for changes in customer sentiment. Social media, comments, and customer listening tools can help brands pick up on changes regionally and in near real-time. These two best practices will help brands get ahead of risks, but also help develop a timely and sensitive approach to messaging and pricing.

For example, scarcity and urgency messaging are long-standing and effective techniques in the e-commerce space, but they can come off as callous and tone-deaf in times of real urgency and need. Retailers can rely on personalization to deliver softer scarcity messaging at the right moments, and can listen to customer feedback on creative new marketing messages such as “athletic wear for at-home workouts.”

Personalize for Better Relevance 

Every city and country is in a different situation. Every consumer has a different employment status. Every customer has a different purchase history, favorite channel, and price sensitivity. Personalization offers retailers the technology to address each need by segment or by individuals. Monetate’s research shows that 78% of companies with a personalization strategy in place saw a positive return and 93% with an advanced personalization strategy did as well.

Now, more than ever, customers crave information that’s relevant for them and will react strongly to messages that aren’t. New Yorkers aren’t going to be buying “date night” outfits in the next few weeks, but those will likely spike in demand as soon as bars and restaurants reopen. Moms will be ordering significantly more books and games for kids, and so they are unlikely to respond to ads for those same products come Q4. Having location data, past purchase data, and customer search data available for accurate personalization will deliver much better experiences and, in turn, much higher ROI for brands.

Customers facing financial strain may also be more responsive to loyalty, savings, and pricing options in the coming months. Personalized pricing for different customers can help retailers still sell products while helping people pay for what they want, or need. Retailers can be respectful of the individual situations each customer has, testing messages for discounts and pay-over-time by segment and shopping behavior.

Internal Monetate data, for instance, reveals that retailers are increasingly turning to COVID-19-related messaging in recent weeks, as they look to address individual customer needs. In the week of March 16, we saw the largest WoW increase in Monetate Experiences activation for 2020 with a 30% increase versus the week prior. Of that lot, 15% of all experiences created either had “Corona” or “COVID” in the name, revealing a nimble way to address the situation at hand.

Read more: How to Avoid Tone-Deaf Marketing in Uncertain Times

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