How Retailers are Innovating During the COVID-19 Crisis

Thought Leadership

The COVID-19 crisis has altered both consumer demands and how businesses are able to operate. This is forcing retailers to pivot and adjust to stay relevant and in an economically stable position for the future.

Retailers are adapting their offerings, products and services, to adjust to shifting consumer needs and provincial regulations. Many locations are still advising their employees to work-from-home, and many consumers remain uncomfortable in stores, even as there are rolling updates to policies and re-openings.

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As a retailer, how can you put some of this innovation into practice?
Here are some practical examples of retailers that are pivoting to take advantage of the changing needs of their customers and attracting new customers:

1. Enhanced Safety Measures - Home Hardware:


Hardware stores were not able to remain open for in-store shopping. They were able to allow their customers to place orders online, by email or phone for curb-side pick-up or delivery.

Now that hardware stores are allow to reopen their doors to customers for the first time in several weeks, stores like Atkinson Home Hardware in Kingston, Ontario is only allowing customers to enter the store if they have face masks - if they don't have one, the employees will provide them with one.

This to me is critical for retail stores going forward. If it is in the public best interest to wear, then retailers should be able to provide them to consumers for the safety of the public and their employees. In addition to offering hand sanitizer at the doors and checkouts, masks should be made available to those that do not have them.

2. Alternative Delivery Methods - St Lawrence Market:

St Lawrence Market
Photo credit: Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS

This large indoor market is a popular area for locals to shop. It typically offers consumers access to merchants and farmers for locally produced products and good each week. Most vendors have remained open, but it is a challenging space to remain physically distanced in. Select merchants are now offering alternative shopping methods such as advanced orders, curbside collection, pick-up and delivery.

I have already taken advantage of this service as I have greatly missed the accessibility to quality local products. In addition to having great quality meats and produce, it felt like having a rare treat during this new COVID routine!

3. Virtual Services - West Elm:

West Elm

For this furniture retailer, connecting with the consumers and encouraging sales through messaging about products, reopening and safety precautions, sensitivity and ingenuity has become key.

They are now offering and promoting a new virtual service - Design Crew - a free design chat & service. Taking advantage of more people who are looking for projects to spend some of their newly found free time at home by giving consumers access to designers to aid with questions about room planning via a virtual consultation.

I have not had the urge to redecorate yet, but if I do, I think this is a great way to have access to someone with a design background. It's always nice to have a second opinion, especially from an expert.

4. Surveying to identify New Offerings - BOMB Fitness:


This local training and coaching facility is no longer able to host classes for large groups of clients.

In order to maintain a connection with their members and remain "open" they are offering a variety of live and recorded fitness classes that require little or no equipment for clients to do in their own homes.

They are routinely surveying their clients to continue to understand their needs and get feedback on programs to support and continue to add value. The feedback has encouraged them to add to only providing physical activities by adding recipes and meal plans, and tips to keep people motivated while at home.

As a result, not only I have continued paying my membership as a loyal Bomb community member, but I am really enjoying the freedom to workout whenever I want. I just grab a mat, my running shoes, a couple of weights and select from the growing list of recorded workouts that keeps me challenged! It is definitely helping to alleviate that extra stress during these uncertain times and keeping off the extra weight from all the baking and ZOOM happy hours!

5. New Delivery Offerings - Il Fornello:

Il Fornello

In Ontario, there are long lines to shop at the LCBO and Wine Rack and limited stock available through delivery apps, some local Toronto restaurants like Il Fornello are providing the opportunity to self-isolate by offering 50% off wine and beer for takeout and curbside pick up.

This means no longer have to wonder when the next delivery slot will open up or how to keep a safe distance while shopping for wine and beer.

Sounds like a hassle-free way to have wine delivered and a "date night" with my spouse. I think I will give it a try this weekend!

As the crisis continues and as the situation evolves and changes over the upcoming months, retailers will need to continue to listen to the needs of their clients a adjust to regulations related to physical distancing and disruptions to regular business practices. This will require new offerings in order to remain relevant and ultimately remain in business. It will be critical to continue to communicate to your customers as changes and adjustments are made.

What are some Key Insights & Practical Takeaways?

  • Be agile and adapt offerings based on the needs of your customers
  • The businesses that are pivoting with the changing needs will be successful
  • Continue to listen and communicate how you are adapting during these changes

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