What retailers are doing right now to be customer-centric during uncertainty

Sarah Travis, Shankar Desai / April 2020

As the world continues to navigate uncertainty related to coronavirus, retailers are faced with many tough decisions — shifting business hours, closing their stores, fluctuating supply chains, protecting front-line employees — all while ensuring public health is the cornerstone of these decisions.

Google is committed to helping retailers adapt to this ever-changing environment. And while brands from McDonald’s to Ford are doing their part to help during this crisis, in the retail industry specifically, many retailers are looking to their peers for how they can do more and be more customer-centric, especially since more than half of U.S. consumers want to hear how brands and companies are responding to the current situation.1

Here are some helpful ways we’ve seen retailers be there for their customers, employees, and communities in these uncertain times.

over 85%

Be current and transparent

People are looking for practical, relevant information and trust companies to deliver, so make sure to promptly communicate any expected business or product updates. In fact, over 85% of U.S. consumers said it is completely acceptable for companies and brands to be communicating at this time.2 Things brands could communicate include changes of hours, store closures, and changes in order fulfillment times.

Thrive Market, an e-commerce membership retailer, proactively let customers know that it’s increased stock in high-demand categories such as immunity, cleaning, and pantry staples and that they will never engage in surge pricing. Sustainable fashion brand Reformation informed customers that, although it closed its stores, it is continuing to pay staff. In the meantime, the brand has partnered with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to launch L.A. Protects, an initiative to organise local manufacturers – who are not already in the protective gear supply chain – to ramp up production of nonmedical masks. The retailer noted that people can still shop online with orders shipping out slowly, as the team fulfills e-commerce orders during downtime from mask production.

Ensure product safety

Efficient and dependable supply chains are the backbone of retail, and many retailers are examining each step in their supply chains to ensure products are safe for their employees and customers. People are concerned about where their products are from and if they’re in stock. As proof, over 50% of U.S. consumers said that brands can be most helpful to them right now by setting realistic expectations regarding availability of or impact on their products and services.3 So again, proactive and timely communication are key.

Lifestyle brand Groove Life have ensured product safety by implementing product quarantines on inventory originating from highly impacted regions. They also proactively let customers know that these extra precautions are its way of helping keep everyone safe and healthy.

Over a Q

Show up in new ways for customers

While your business is adapting, so are your customers. Over a quarter of U.S. consumers can’t find the products they want or need, and nearly 3 in 10 bought brands they don’t normally buy.4 Many retailers have changed how they operate in order to sustain business and help people get the products they need in new ways.

“Essential services” retailers including Target, Whole Foods, and Safeway have allotted dedicated time for seniors, pregnant women, and people with disabilities to have access to the store before the general public to get the resources they need. While CVS Health implemented free delivery on prescriptions and, in partnership with federal, state and local government, is offering free rapid-result COVID-19 testing to eligible residents in Georgia, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island by appointment only as well as offering its first free, drive-up testing location for first-responders.

After Best Buy saw demand surge for products that people need to work or learn from home — and for refrigerators and freezers — the consumer electronics giant adapted and implemented curbside sales and pickup, allowing customers to stay safely in their cars while a Best Buy employee picks up and delivers their purchase to the curb.

Many companies have extended their returns windows, including H&M, which announced it will accept returns via mail indefinitely and include free delivery for any online order.

As we share these examples of retailers who are in a position to go above and beyond, we also recognise and respect that in this time of great need, it’s all that many retailers and brands can do just to keep the lights on. And while businesses are facing many tough decisions right now, the safety of all our customers, employees, and communities is everyone’s top priority.

Sarah Travis.jpg

Sarah Travis

Retail Industry Director at Google
Shankar Desai.png

Shankar Desai

Head of E-commerce at Google

Sources (4)

1,2,3,4 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, Global, AU, BR, CA, CN, FR, DE, IN, IT, JP, MX, RU, ES, U.K., U.S. n=1000, VN n=500 online consumers 18+ per market, April 2, 2020–April 5, 2020.