Here’s what to do when your online presence becomes your retail storefront

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Kevin Fried, Guy de Rocquigny / May 2020

Kevin Fried is the industry leader, specialty retail, at Google. Guy de Rocquigny is Google APAC’s director of performance and provides APAC-specific insights to illustrate Fried’s perspective.

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life and businesses these past few months, we’ve talked to many of our retail customers about their concerns and asked how Google could help. We’re continuing to hear from these customers about the challenges they’re facing, especially with closures or restrictions on their physical stores.

People are looking for information they can trust, and they’re going online to find it. Foot traffic has become online traffic as people shelter at home, with 43% of global consumers shopping online more frequently.1

So the pressure is now on retailers’ new primary stores — their e-commerce sites and apps — to not only sell inventory and generate revenue, but also to support, inform, and reassure customers along the way. It’s a delicate balancing act, but not an impossible one, and we’ve identified eight strategies that retailers can apply to provide their customers with relevant, frictionless, and helpful shopping experiences right now.

1. Prioritize business challenges

Your team is likely being inundated with requests and new ideas. But you can’t tackle them all at once. Prioritization is key. Evaluate whether there are aspects of your site or app’s messaging or design that are hurting the brand or having a negative impact on customers’ experience. Adjust that first. Then dig into optimizations that can either enhance the experience or improve performance.

Things to consider include consistent messaging at every consumer touchpoint, ways to optimize customer support, and maintaining app or site performance despite volatile traffic or transaction volume. The average weekly time spent on apps grew 20% year over year in Q1 2020, suggesting apps are making a difference in how people navigate through this unprecedented time.2 Focus on those projects that will drive the most impact, then define how you will measure their success.

2. Adapt your creative and media campaign strategy

As routines and schedules change to meet the demands of social isolation and shelter-in-place orders, so are shopping behaviors. Make sure your brand campaigns and creative assets reflect that.

  • Update your content to drive shoppers to your site instead of physical locations that may be closed.
  • Discontinue campaigns in regions where you can’t operate or where the content may seem insensitive, such as areas where your supply chain is disrupted or stores are closed.
  • Make any brand message or creative relevant and empathetic. Refer to these five guiding principles for media teams.
  • Use automated solutions that respond to real-time signals to keep up with customer demand and optimize within your digital budget.

3. Optimize mobile site speed

With ongoing store closures, more people are shopping online. And as online traffic spikes, it’s critical that your retail site or app can handle increased volume.

With mobile devices being the primary point of online access for the majority of consumers in APAC, their mobile experience can have a significant impact on your bottom line. In fact, for every second of delay in mobile page lead time, there is a 20% drop in conversions.3 Optimize your mobile site by following the best practices in this course and these tips:

  • Check your content delivery network (CDN) providers (for example., Akamai, Cloudflare, Google Cloud CDN) for settings that can enable faster requests.
  • Many site resources don’t require updates on subsequent visits. Adopt simple HTTP-caching methods that improve load times for returning users and reduce server load with minimal code changes.
  • Make your site load faster by compressing your images and text, without compromising visual quality.
  • Implement font-display swap so customers can read your site’s text, even if the primary font doesn’t load fast enough.
  • Delete unused tags from your tag managers, clean up bloated CSS and JS code, and remove other deprecated features.
  • Regularly check your site’s speed using tools like Test My Site and PageSpeed Insights. You’ll find more tips on how to speed up your website here.

4. Use prime real estate for critical information alerts

We know that 77% of global consumers say brands should talk about how they are helpful now.4 In fact, more than 1 in 3 consumers have started using a new brand as a result of the innovative or compassionate way they’ve responded to the pandemic.5 Use your site’s homepage to share information about how you’re supporting customers. Remain authentic, avoid corporate-speak, and ensure your banners and other site notifications are simple, yet distinct, with calm colors and fonts. Also remember to allow users to easily “X” (close) any banners so they can continue navigating.

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5. Make your product offerings and promotions relevant

More than 30% of consumers across Australia, China, and India bought brands they don't normally buy from, due to the unavailability of their usual brand.6 Given this shift in demand, ask yourself two questions: Is what you’re featuring on your site relevant to this new normal? Are you promoting the products that can help your customers most?

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6. Provide a seamless checkout experience

Because APAC is mobile-first, it’s crucial to deliver customers friction-free service they will remember. 54% of consumers said they will switch from a poorly designed mobile site to an alternative mobile site that makes purchasing easy.7

Ensure your payment processing system is fast and effortless. Also identify ways to incorporate personalization enhancements, such as storing shopping information or recently explored items. In short, your front- and back-end framework and technology need to deliver the best experience possible. Work with your tech teams to map the infrastructure and tech stack that support your site and make sure they interact seamlessly.

Within your app, make sure to follow these UX best practices to learn what makes a good mobile site.

7. Use technology to alleviate customer support demand

More than 1 in 4 shoppers across Australia, China, and India say brands could be most helpful to them by training their customer service teams on how to best handle their needs in the moment.8 With that in mind, are you giving customers the kind of support they need in today’s environment? Use your teams and chatbots to clarify customer service updates, be transparent about expectations, and signpost handy resources. Enable and check any customer messages across all touchpoints so customers can get answers quickly and easily.

8. Be consistent across channels

E-commerce retailers have an opportunity to drive sales by reconnecting with app users. According to a Global App Survey, 60% of survey respondents are likely to make an in-app purchase in an app they downloaded during the pandemic.9 So it is in a brand’s best interests to ensure users have seamless experiences to turn a potentially short-term app install into a loyal and active relationship.

Apps and sites are uniquely positioned to maintain a consistent dialogue as dynamics shift. Proactively engage with users as you respond to these shifts, and provide clear context as to why you’re making changes. Whether you’re communicating product availability, shipping times, or brand messaging, make sure the messages reflect what’s on your site.

Navigating your retail business through COVID-19