This is a guest post by Kristen LaFrance, Shopify’s Head of Resilient Retail. Here Kristen shares her personal insights into the strategies brick-and-mortar stores are leveraging to go omni.
The pandemic forced traditionally brick-and-mortar retailers to step into unfamiliar territory: omnichannel retail. Even for retailers who had considered leaping into a more digitized storefront in the past, the pandemic sped up the process.
But that’s the beauty of resilience. You do what you have to do to survive.
The transition to omnichannel retail isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. With various platforms to experiment with, brick-and-mortar retailers have redefined creativity in the name of keeping their doors open—whether physical or digital.
“The cool part about the holiday season of 2020 is that it’s unprecedented, which can sound very scary, or it can sound full of opportunity,” says Harley Finkelstein, the President of Shopify.
Omnichannel retailing is an all-inclusive retailing approach that gives customers a seamless shopping experience across various channels or touchpoints.
A common misconception of omnichannel retail is the notion of being everywhere. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The secret to omnichannel success is to be where your customers are.
Here’s a look at some of the omnichannel trends brick-and-mortar retailers are using to make lemonade out of lemons.
1. Leaning Digital
With social distancing and lockdown measures in full effect, the shift to digital was the next logical step. Countless tools, platforms, software, and creative opportunities exist, which can make the digital world feel overwhelming, especially under these circumstances.
But resilient retailers didn’t shy away from change. They embraced it and went digital as fast as possible. Whether this was their first official foray into the ecommerce world or they’re giving it another shot, resilient retailers are investing in omnichannel.
Take The Detox Market, a green beauty collective with exceptional standards. The Detox Market offers clean products that customers can peruse in one of their physical stores. They also offer consultations with Detox Ambassadors, where customers can ask questions and get recommendations.
After closing their physical stores early, The Detox Market team assessed business practices and look for opportunities to leverage ecommerce.
“[…] we have this time to rethink about what we wanted to do, how we wanted the stores to be. Also, what was wrong with the stores, maybe things we can improve,” said the founder and CEO of The Detox Market, Romain Gaillard. “The next phase of retail is, ‘how do you bring that amazing level of service and experience to ecommerce?'”
Their most significant hurdle to overcome? Recreating that ultra-personalized shopping experience online.
The Detox Market implemented Hero to bring that signature personalized shopping experience online and saw incredible results. With Hero, customers can shop virtually and connect to an associate in the store nearest to them via text, chat, or video. Since using Hero, The Detox Market has seen a 1.5x increase in the number of chats, with 25% of all virtual sessions resulting in a sale.
What’s more, Detox Ambassadors follow along with shoppers as they virtually browse different items, adding another layer of personalization. The Detox Market can facilitate the intimate shopping experience their customers are accustomed to, all online.
“[Hero] was very easily adopted by the team. Everyone loved it. It was just taking the physical world and making it digital because you have a level of service in a physical store that you would never have on ecomm.”
2. A Harmonious Physical and Digital Inventory System
One of the most significant challenges brick-and-mortar retailers had to maneuver was figuring out how to bring their in-store inventory online. And quick.
Any retailer knows that a chaotic inventory system is a recipe for disaster. So it’s all the more important to have this side of business buttoned up. From logistical difficulties like cohesive inventory tracking to matching photos and descriptions with the right products, transitioning a physical store to an online store is no small feat.
“I knew someday we wanted to get online, but we didn’t know that this was going to be a moment and a season that really forced us into that and that we had already taken the first steps to kind of be prepped,” said Jeff Bull, the Brand Director of TC Running. “So it was an enormous amount of work. I mean, you’re talking about inventory in the millions to be able to get online in a very short amount of time.”
With Shopify POS, in-store and online sales are unified from the start. That way, the ecommerce store always matches what’s in stock and vice versa.
Shopify POS also lets you create purchase orders and transfer stock from inventory forecasting and performance reports. For retailers with multiple locations, it’s easy to view what’s in stock across all stores as well as online.
“It took us just over a week to get our online store and POS up and running,” says Jeff. “We have a lot of SKUs, and Shopify made it really easy to set up products and inventory counts.”
TC Running uploaded their inventory to a single product catalog within Shopify. Then, rather than managing separate groups of inventory for online and in-store, TC Running was able to upload their items and select the products and SKUs they wanted to sell via their online store, retail store, or both.
3. Embracing New Fulfillment Methods
Perhaps one of the most widely adopted resilient retail methods has been local delivery and curbside pickup. Since customers cannot physically be in stores in many cases, offering this alternative shopping method has proven effective.
This has quickly become a popular fulfillment method for many food and beverage companies, like Great Lakes Brewery out of Toronto, Ontario.
“[..]once that sheer panic and terror kicked in we met as a team and said, ‘Okay, let’s put our heads together. What can we do?’ And within four business days, we had our online shop up and running for free local home delivery of our products on any order over $50,” said Troy Burtch, the marketing and communications manager of Great Lakes Brewery.
Local delivery and curbside pickup allow customers to shop online without waiting for their items to be shipped. This simple yet innovative idea makes it possible for restaurants, breweries, and other establishments to function in a way that closely resembles pre-pandemic operations.
For retailers that offer non-food perishable items like succulents, flowers, and plants, this fulfillment method has worked wonders for them, too.
ReRoot in Denver offers to ship select items like T-shirts, posters, and shower bundles. At the start of the pandemic, ReRoot offered designated days for curbside pickup, which helped propel them forward.
“This past month of transitioning everything into online, shipping our precious plant babies across the nation, and our first-ever curbside pickup weekend has been both very exciting and very difficult. We’ve made some mistakes here and there, but the way you guys have shown up and supported our little shop has made us feel more loved than ever before. I can’t put into words how special it feels to be supported by a growing community, connected by a love of plants. It really feels like a dream, even during a global pandemic,” said ReRoot in an Instagram post.
The idea of local delivery and curbside pickup isn’t new. But how retailers altered tried and true tactics to keep their businesses propelling is the definition of resilient.
4. Taking the In-Store Experience Virtual
Store and shopping logistics aside, another major challenge brick-and-mortar retailers face is maintaining that in-store magic in a virtual setting.
Before the pandemic, many retailers would host events, workshops, and other gatherings to not only encourage foot traffic but to foster a certain kind of in-store experience. For example, Lululemon’s in-store yoga events encouraged customers to connect with the brand on a different level and see their products in action (or try them out for themselves).
But, of course, events like this are rare at the moment. So how are resilient retailers keeping the momentum going while ensuring customers and employees are safe?
Social media has always been a great way to connect with customers. Still, retailers are getting creative with extending the in-store experience through channels like Instagram and Facebook.
Universal Standard, an inclusive and ethical fashion brand that offers the largest commercially available size range in the world, is an excellent example of this level of creativity at work.
The brand took part in #OperationStorytime, a virtual book reading event started by Romper and Scholastic, hosted on the brand’s Instagram page. During the Instagram Live, the Co-Founder and Creative Director, Alex Waldman, read the children’s book What Would Fashion Look Like If It Included All of Us?, which was written by Universal Standard.
Not only is this a fantastic way to connect with your audience and demonstrate your brand values, but hosting a live reading of the book reinforces that sense of community and shared values.
Another brand that’s leveraging various digital channels to reach their audience is Beardbrand, a community for beardsmen that offers high-quality products. Beardbrand took to channels like Instagram and Facebook to give beard connoisseurs the content they love most: all things beards.
From videos like a beard to mutton chop transformation and bald skin fade haircuts to blog posts that explain all you need to know about beard oil and how to use it, Beardbrand has been producing stellar content for their audience.
5. Leaning on Their Community
It’s been a tough year for all of us. That’s why leaning on one another has never been more critical.
In the retail world, brands build communities for all kinds of reasons: to connect with like-minded customers, to spread the word about their products and services, and to foster a space where people can be themselves.
But without being able to engage with customers in stores physically, retailers have been connecting to their communities in different ways.
Communication has been a critical part of keeping brand communities afloat during the pandemic. Many retailers have turned to social media channels, Google My Business, and their website to update customers on store hour changes, COVID-19 safety measures, and shipping information.
LIVELY, a bra and underwear retailer with shops in Boston, New York, Austin, and Chicago, explicitly states their COVID-19 guidelines and procedures on their website. This includes measures like a distanced checkout experience where customers receive a LIVELY branded tote to put their items in (which they then get to keep). LIVELY also discloses its store cleaning and social distancing protocol to give customers peace of mind as they shop.
Besides communicating store changes to customers, LIVELY also offered several online-only events called #livingLIVELY At Home. These events ranged from at-home workouts and hair how-tos to fireside chats with empowering female founders and business owners.
Even with social distancing and quarantining, resilient retailers are always looking for ways to support their communities in whatever way they can safely do so. As they say, it takes a village.
Resilient Retailers Commit to Doing Whatever It Takes to Survive
If the pandemic has taught the retail world anything, it’s that you can endure if you’re willing to get creative with what’s around you. That’s the true definition of resilience.
It may not be perfect, or it may not work out as you planned, but if you’re willing to try new things with your products or services, get on new platforms, or test out new tools, you’re moving in the right direction.
How are you staying resilient?
All images courtesy of Shopify.
Kristen LaFrance is the host of Shopify’s Resilient Retail series. Prior to joining the Shopify team, she hosted two eCommerce podcasts: Playing for Keeps and eComm Noms.