The impact of COVID-19 on retail has been covered extensively. The good news is, most nations have already passed the peak of the pandemic, so now retail brands around the globe are beginning to reopen their doors. 

But what remains to be seen is, what will the next phase of retail look like? How can brands adapt and respond to changes in the retail industry and consumer shopping trends in the “new normal?”

Kroger — the largest supermarket chain in the US and the fifth-largest retailer in the world — recently released Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses. This in-depth resource offers a collection of recommendations, insights, and best practices — based on the company’s own learnings — aimed at helping businesses navigate after the pandemic.

Here are 3 Key Insights from the Kroger blueprint to help retail brands successfully transition into the next phase of retail. 

1. Let Data Guide You

“We use data to drive our decisions in a rapidly evolving situation.” 

No business was fully prepared for the tangible and emotional impact that the pandemic has had on society. However, we can take some comfort in the fact that modern technology and the communications infrastructure allow us to track, collect, analyze, and share all the data related to COVID-19’s impact. 

As you begin opening your stores, stay in tune with the data from your community and your business. Let this data guide your decisions.

Data about your community

Your local and national governments will have data on how your community is being affected by COVID-19. Fluctuations in reported cases of the virus may give you indications about how social distancing and store opening guidelines will be impacted. Your store hours, ability to staff, and need for PPE may change accordingly, for example. 

The more informed you are about how your local community is impacted, the more agile, responsive, and supportive you’ll be as a business. 

Data about your business

COVID-19 has not impacted all businesses equally. Having access to industry-specific data can help your organization make better decisions, while having access to real-time, actionable consumer data will be vital for your retail brand’s online and offline strategy. 

Your own consumer, product, and sales data can help you identify trends that are relevant for your business (i.e., which products are selling the best, where are you low in inventory, etc.). Broader industry-wide data from resources like ccinsight, which draws from over a billion engagements and 400 million consumer transactions across 120 countries, can provide you with a global and regional overview of what’s happening across all of retail and e-commerce. These sources combined can help you decide what to stock and what to market to your customers.

2. Embrace Digital 

“Digital capabilities allow us to maximize physical-distancing practices, utilize contactless transactions, and continue to provide an excellent shopping experience.” 

Having the capacity to go digital-first or omnichannel if and when needed will poise your brand to deliver customer satisfaction without compromising on safety. 

Connecting to customers where they are

Whether it’s because of exposure concerns that are inherent in a public environment, or because of convenience, many customers will prefer to engage with your brand online and avoid having to go to your brick-and-mortar stores, even once you’ve reopened your doors. 

Website, mobile, in-app, social, or SMS — these are all channels that your customers will use to stay connected and conduct transactions. Your digital presence on these channels, therefore, will need to be prioritized and established. Ensure you have the technology in place that allows you to facilitate a consistent brand experience for your customers across all of these channels.

Online to offline, offline to online

Some customers will be eager to return to your physical stores, but may seek to minimize their risk of exposure when possible. Others will fully embrace the in-store experience but ultimately want some of the conveniences that digital provides. Your job is to bridge this gap when possible. 

To achieve this, you’ll need to be ready for omnichannel customer engagement. If your brand is truly omnichannel, customers can easily begin a shopping experience online, and finish their transaction in-store, or vice-versa. 

Kroger does this with buy online, pick up in store options. They also use their own app to facilitate contactless transactions and product recommendations. Consider ways your brand can maximize the experience for customers by leveraging all of your channels. 

3. Keep in Touch

“Communication is critical, especially during uncertain times. We’re all still navigating unknown waters, and things change rapidly.” 

Although data will be useful in giving you indicators that impact your business, it’s your job to deliver and communicate the relevant information that impacts your customers

Keeping in touch with your customers (and, of course, your employees) throughout the process of transitioning to the next phase of retail will be essential in delivering peace of mind, and establishing a semblance of “business as usual.”  

Store-level changes

As customers begin to return to your locations, it’s important for you to educate them about what they can expect at a store level.

Store hours, in-store safety practices, social distancing guidelines — these are types of relevant information your customers will want to know before they enter your store. Having a strong digital presence that lets customers easily access this information, and on every channel, will be critical. If customers can’t see the measures you have in place to protect them and ensure a quality, safe experience, they may not be comfortable visiting your stores.  

Consistent engagement with your brand

Your loyal customers still love your brand. Prospective customers may not know about your brand. And defected customers haven’t heard about the ways you’ve improved the shopping experience you offer. No matter the audience, you need to continue to engage all customers, especially during the transition to the “new normal.”

Remember all those insights you gleaned from your data about products and inventory? Use that to inform your engagement with customers. Product recommendations, low inventory, and back-in-stock communications are examples of what you should be sending to customers. It’s also a way to drive foot traffic back into stores to recover lost revenue. 

Going Forward

As stated in the blueprint from Kroger: “Not all businesses are the same.” Strategies that work for one brand or industry may not work the same for yours. Perhaps no single decision will be a make-or-break choice for your company.

One exception: Stagnation. It’s inevitable that retail will evolve — so should your brand. You can’t afford to stay still.

That’s why major retail companies like Kroger are willing to freely share their learnings, and why resources like ccinsight exist — to openly exchange ideas, insights, and strategies that can help businesses continue and move forward. Ultimately, we’re all in this together. 

To learn more about Kroger’s blueprint for success, access the entire document here.

If you would like to contribute ideas, knowledge, or content to the ccinsight community, contact community@ccinsight.org