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

Sarah Travis, Shankar Desai / May 2020

As the world continues to navigate uncertainty related to coronavirus, retailers are faced with many tough decisions — shifting business hours, closing and now potentially reopening 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.K. consumers want to hear how brands and companies are responding to the evolving situation.1

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

What retailers are doing right now to be customer-centric during uncertainty-1UK

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.K. 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 fulfilment times.

Aldi was the first U.K. supermarket chain to ration the sale of all products, bringing in the measure on 15 March. Customers were restricted to purchasing four of any item per person, with nappies, toilet rolls and kitchen rolls limited to two per person.

Halfords has kept its autocentres and garages open during the pandemic, pointing to the fact that many key workers, including British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence, rely on its services to keep their motor fleets running. The retailer has 'fundamentally' changed how its stores operate. Customers are no longer allowed into stores to browse in order to stick to social distancing rules. Halfords is instead providing services and collection from the front of store, and insisted it will only continue to operate this service if 'we can ensure the health and safety of our colleagues and customers, and we are able to comply with government policy'.

Ikea's homepage has a banner highlighting the delays in delivery due to unprecedented demand, and directs to Coronoavirus: FAQs localised to U.K. customers.

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.K. 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.

Home furnishings store Dunelm introduced three ways for customers to shop contact-free, helping to keep everyone safe and healthy.

What retailers are doing right now to be customer-centric during uncertainty-2UK

Show up in new ways for customers

While your business is adapting, so are your customers. Nearly a quarter of U.K. 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 such as Iceland, Sainsbury's, and Asda 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. Tesco plans to increase online availability to over 1.2 million people and double their delivery slots. In order to support the initiative, they also plan on hiring an additional 12,000 staff members and extend an additional 10% bonus for workers during this busy time.

Online shopping and delivery have become integral for companies. Deliveroo and Morrisons have partnered up to enable customers to order around 70 essential household items from stores for on-demand delivery. Customers will receive contact-free orders to ensure safety, with Deliveroo riders leaving the deliveries at customers’ doors to collect. Boots announced it had hired an extra 500 delivery drivers to help meet the soaring demand for prescription medicine home delivery. The retailer said the new delivery drivers would mean it could introduce the service to 40 more of its store across the U.K., as demand for the service had risen from 90,000 prescriptions a week to more than 150,000 in a month.

To support online shoppers, companies are expanding their online customer support capabilities. John Lewis customers will be able to book free, one-to-one video appointments with experts from their device. The initial launch included virtual nursery, home design and personal styling advice with further services, inspirational talks and learning sessions. Currys PC World launched SHOPLIVE – allowing customers on select pages of their website to start a one way video call with one of their experts for assistance.

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.

Google tools and resources to help your business continue working effectively through the coronavirus pandemic