What social distancing can teach retailers

The most difficult part of the coronavirus quarantine is dealing with a lack of face-to-face interaction

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We are social beings.

One of the most difficult parts of the coronavirus quarantine, for healthy individuals, has been dealing with a lack of face-to-face interaction.

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The majority of my communication with friends has been centered on sharing memes to encourage a smile during a time when nobody really knows what is going on.

Retailers must focus on ways to create personalized interaction and unique experiences online. This means more than listing your available products or services in an online store. It goes to the heart of creating a connection with the consumer.

Perhaps we Facetime once in a while or promise to work out to the same live stream yoga class, but overall, much of the time social distancing is spent in our own heads.

How does this connect to retail? Because retail deals directly with human psychology and focuses on the goal of creating and enhancing desire.

The concepts of novelty, reciprocity, community, social proof, urgency and storytelling are at the center of any successful product strategy. Yes, this is easier said than done during ordinary times but even more difficult when focusing exclusively on remote transactions.

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That's why retailers must focus on ways to create personalized interaction and unique experiences online. This means more than listing your available products or services in an online store. It goes to the heart of creating a connection with the consumer.

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Here are nine ways both large and small business can use this time to enhance their brand experience online:

  1. Focus on collaboration with other synergistic businesses. Use the exponential power of shared networks to enhance the one-for-all and all-for-one mentality. Create collaboratives to co-promote these partners at no cost and lower overhead by teaming up on free delivery offerings.
  2. Utilize your top customers as brand advocates on social media. Offer contests or rewards for customers who share their experiences with your products. Livestream ‘shop with an expert’ or Q&A opportunities where potential customers can ask questions to a brand representative or other customers in real time.
  3. Offer personalization of core products. This can mean anything from optimizing SEO, segmenting marketing communication, improving suggested products, or offering engraving or customized color choices. Accenture has reported that 91 percent of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that provide relevant offers and recommendations based on collected preferences.
  4. Focus on precision. Are your customers using products optimally? Is there an opportunity to better educate them on the benefits and attributes?  Educate your customers with the same voracity that you educate your salespeople.
  5. Amp up your customer service. People are on edge emotionally and a pleasant service experience can make or break fragile trust now more than ever.
  6. Get your founder involved. People want to hear the stories behind the brand and when putting a face with a product, they are more likely to connect on an emotional level and choose your brand over an alternative.
  7. Be consistent. This is the time to refine your brand on all platforms.
  8. Clear out old inventory... but don’t overuse price promotion as this strategy will conflict with building a consistent, secure brand image.
  9. Gamify. Use bidding, digital loyalty cards, flash sales, goal tracking and friendly competition to increase engagement with your brand.

Retailers can learn from social distancing by observing how we are keeping ourselves entertained as individuals. Make this a time of reflection, future planning and problem-solving. Keep people top of mind and your brand will come out stronger in the long run.

Erin Sykes is a retail and sales strategist, consultant. She began her career with Estee Lauder, working extensively within international markets, notably Asia and Latin America and later served as CMO of AEDIT, Vice President of Sykes Commercial Development, and Founder of Mission 360. Follow Erin @sykesstyle on social media.

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