The footwear industry is having to adapt its offerings to consumers, as COVID-19 restrictions limit store operations and strains e-commerce deliveries. But the brands and retailers that are able to maintain a positive relationship with their consumers, despite reductions in service, are more likely to retain customers during — and after — the pandemic.
The challenges are many: order fulfillment, as inventories struggle to match the new demand; prompt delivery, as logistics networks strain to match the increase in order volume; and communication, as companies face high levels of uncertainty and must navigate fast-changing circumstances.
“Companies are struggling to properly communicate with their consumers about how the coronavirus is affecting business operations — specifically, deliveries,” said Asaf Hachmon, CEO of Bond, a post-purchase experience solution. “Regardless of the current situation, consumers still expect to receive the items they need in the timeframe they expect.”
If possible, experts recommend that businesses adjust their fulfillment networks to match the shift from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce shopping. Nano-distribution centers, or tiny warehouses, that are placed in high density areas are better suited for fast, local delivery and more cost efficient. Disseminating the most popular products to these centers can also increase availability to more consumers.
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Woodrow Levin, CEO and founder at extended warranty service Extend, noted that brands should be wary of raising prices even if demand surges. While customers may be willing to pay the price now, they may hold such strategy against a business as circumstances return to normal — and then be willing to shop elsewhere. In fact, Levin recommended the opposite.
“Though it seems counterintuitive during these trying times, it’s worth exploring discounting items wherever possible to help customers who may be struggling,” said Levin. “Online merchants should also implement options to help customers, including extended warranties and financing options to offer greater peace of mind.”
Despite these measures, experts warned that brands should expect some delays to performance. However, Hachmon believes these circumstances will allow successful companies to demonstrate the strength of a brand’s customer service. Consumers and businesses alike are concerned about the impact of the coronavirus, so expressing empathy and sensitivity in customer communications can help foster brand support.
“The closer your customers feel to you, the more they will stick around,” said Hachmon. “Stay connected on social media — remember that social distancing doesn’t include social media — by providing genuine emotional support, relevant data and perhaps even some humor when appropriate.”
Timely and sensitive communication can also help companies stay relevant, even if they sell non-essential products. By positioning themselves as a thoughtful, reassuring presence during a stressful time, brands can associate their products with similar “feel good” messaging.
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