How to Optimize your Retail Customer Experience and Profitability during a Pandemic Recovery

Thought Leadership

The coronavirus has forced retailers to pivot and focus on digital and eCommerce activities, now more than ever. It’s clear that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of online shopping, as much as 6x growth in some categories according to Statista.


However, the lion’s share of retail sales, 85%, still comes from brick and mortar stores, based on eMarketer’s latest report. If retailers are going to pull through the recovery, it’s important to put those physical assets to work.


Retailers are adapting quickly and rising to the challenges of our current reality – evidenced by social distancing floor stickers, curbside pickup, store traffic limits and quarantined product returns to name a few. What about the economic implications of these new operational requirements and restrictions?

As retailers re-balance their footprint and re-imagine the in-store experience, this may be an opportune time to re-purpose store format and size to respond to consumer shifts and preferences, as suggested by PWC’s Consumer Insights Survey.

With limited occupancy to prevent over-crowding, every visit that a customer makes to your location has to perform 25% better to generate the same revenue. Combined with additional operational costs incurred from measures like plexiglass barriers and wait times to put products back on shelf post-customer contact, profitability is even more challenged.


3 Principles for Retail Success
These principles are certainly not new but leveraged in a new light based on current context, can help retailers optimize their profit potential amid lower traffic tolerances and increased operational measures.

1: Deliver exceptional, highly personal customer experiences
Many retail locations have introduced limits to the number of customers in the store at any given time, which can lead to line ups outside during peak times. Depending on the store location, there’s an additional consideration around managing lines between neighbouring retailers. As we approach Black Friday and the peak holiday buying season, managing foot traffic may become a pressing need.

Brick and Mortar1

Today, when customers venture out to a physical store, their express purpose is to purchase something. Lineups have a way of deterring even the most driven shopper, resulting in disappointed customers returning home empty-handed.

Brick and Mortar2

The website has an online tool which frequently updates the wait times from participating stores. Stores with less than a 10-minute wait are listed in green, while places with more than a half-hour are listed in red.

As a retailer, one way for you to remedy the lineup situation is by booking appointments. It’s beneficial for customers by reducing or eliminating their wait time, and staff are more productive serving customers either ready to buy or picking up a prepaid purchase made online. After-sales touchpoints are another great way to ensure customers have a positive experience with their new purchase. Decathlon, for example, offers a free bike fitting and 6-month tune up on every bike purchase.

Personal customer appointments are an incredible way to deliver a exceptional service, minimize lost sales from frustrated customers abandoning their shopping trip, and reduce the number of people potentially at risk outside your store.


Pro Tip: Rack up add-on sales with your service offering. Motivated by a free bike fitting, Decathlon customers learn about their breadth of services such as skate and ski sharpening, even t-shirt printing. Once a customer arrives in-store for their service, they’re likely to browse and pick up something extra such as a high margin accessory, while their product is being serviced.


2: Treat your best customers best
We’ve all seen the rule of thumb: it costs 5x more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Pushing the idea of personal appointments one step further, how about reserving appointment blocks or certain services for your best customers? Or prioritize a notification so your top spenders get first crack at booking an appointment a day prior to the rest of your customers. What about a separate returns desk? With fitting rooms closed and an uptick in online orders, returns are spiking as well. Rather than going to a Canada Post outlet, a quick and pain-free return experience in-store might be more attractive. They might even have a chance to exchange for the proper size or grab an add-on purchase.

Regardless of how you decide to differentiate your offering, the first step is understanding who your best customers are, which is easier to do if you have a way of identifying your customers either through a membership of some sort or loyalty program.

If you provide value to your customers, they will share their information and provide permission to engage with them. Once you have a means to recognize who your customers are as they interact with you, then you need to create segments of customers. If you don’t have access to data scientists to build models such as CLV (customer lifetime value), RFE (recency, frequency, engagement) and RFM (recency, frequency, monetary value), you can start with the basics. How you define best is up to you – longest tenure, most referrals, biggest spenders, buys at full price, or a combination. How you use that insight is up to your imagination.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a membership or loyalty program already in place, you don’t necessarily need to stand-up a traditional points-based loyalty program. To keep costs low and value high, consider benefits such as premium access, advance notice of promotions, or a special pick-up counter instead.

3: Be easy to do business with
The term often used is frictionless. In the simplest of terms, a customer just wants to get the information they need easily, when they need it, have a quick and smooth purchase experience and have problems solved in a timely manner when issues arise.

Informing your customers real-time is a necessity as cities deal with re-opening and re-confinement in some cases. The more agile retailers empower decision-making at the store level which drives this need for customized communications depending on the store. For example, Decathlon has bike delivery service uniquely from its Montreal Eaton Centre mall location, different from their counterparts outside the city center who offer curbside pickup, both services introduced since the pandemic.

It’s important to communicate in a timely manner, ideally real-time, because your customers want to know which locations are open, when, what services are offered at that specific location, and what they can expect from their shopping experience – today.

Pro Tip: As reopening evolves, locations will likely differ in their ability to have in-person appointments so it’s a best practice to ensure your communications and operations are agile to adapt as situations change by region. Make sure all your channels provide updated information, consistently, such as hours of operation. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I received an email from a retailer to pick up a purchase between 10am-6pm, when actual store hours were 11am-7pm. Keep all your channels up to date!

Walmart does this well by linking store hours to the website instead of specifying them in the email.


Regional and national retailers who need to customize individual communications at scale have essentially two choices: leave communications up to each store and accept a certain level of individuality, or if you’re like many large retailers, you’ve centralized your communications to a head office function. Here’s where marketing automation and dynamic content can be a life saver.

Pro Tip: Customize each message with the product and service offering available at each individual store location. This can be automated with leading digital platforms, allowing you to update personalized communications seamlessly as store situations change, at scale. Not only can the smart use of dynamic content enable you to communicate the appropriate details for each store, you can layer in relevant product and service information to each customer based on their past purchases and current interests.

During a time of such fundamental change on so many fronts, combining all 3 foundational principles can pay dividends. Treating your best customers best, in a highly personal way, with an incredible level of service is unbeatable.

For all you retailers on the path to recovery, we’re rooting for you!

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