Aldo Agostinelli

After the lockdown, the shops reopen. But it is a return to a “new normality”. Which requires harmonization of the physical and virtual experience of trade. The tips to combine digital and real retail and some indications for digital marketing.

We have just entered phase 2 of the Covid 19 pandemics which has stopped the world for two months. We are trying to go back to normality or, as the experts have put it, to a “ new normality” . Because the virus has not disappeared and we may experience new waves of infection.

However, now the time has come for us to analyze such new normality so as to try and organize it. As we all know far too well, physical retail has been heavily hit by the pandemics. The new report entitled “Towards the ‘new retail normal’” issued by Wavemaker Italia provides some data to be taken into consideration and offers some solutions to have a head start.

Phase 1: online stores rocketed

Let’s talk about data. On the one hand people are logically worried; on the other hand, purchasing habits have changed a lot due to the 2-month lockdown.

50% of Italian interviewees intend to avoid crowded places, shops included; 60 % stated that they want to adopt precautionary measures and will be really careful before entering shops.

During the period when shops were closed, online sales rocketed by 180% in only three weeks. And 75% of customers were people who had never bought anything online before.  

Now, how could we match the first data with the second? Many retailers activated new online stores to compensate the losses of the physical channel, and their customers ( both old and new ) got used to this pretty fast. And now they need to act on two fronts: making their physical store safe according to the new law while simultaneously keeping their e-commerce running.

Phase 2: update shops positions on Google Maps

Wavemaker experts recommend solving this issue in two different ways. First, retailers should reopen their physical stores and create specific and detailed communication campaigns both online and offline.  For instance, let’s picture this only apparently simple scenario: a user browses Google and enters the name of one of their favorite stores. Information concerning the opening hours and the services provided must be correct. So it is important for retailers to update the Google Local Business file by entering the right information.

With reference to online stores, retailers should not forget about social media and emails

Online retailers should not abandon their existing Facebook page and should keep answering users’ questions by supplying comprehensive information. It could be advisable to also use the CRM to send emails, SMS messages and push notifications to tell customers about the new opening hours and the new services provided.

That is to say: if, following the lockdown, people have moved to the e-commerce, the online channel must send messages aimed at also guiding them back to the offline store.

The physical/virtual barrier has fallen: opening an e-commerce

During this second phase online and offline services must be harmonized. As said before, customers changed during the lockdown. They got used to new mechanisms they had never used before, they changed their behaviour and the way the purchase desire turns into a proper purchase.

We cannot (and shall not!) look back; on the contrary, we need to keep working to blend the physical/virtual  dimensions and push the accelerator towards the digital transformation. Steps which have already been made – such as creating an active e-commerce– must not be cancelled, indeed they must be implemented so that users can move from the virtual to the physical dimension and viceversa and understand also some new ways to purchase things they have never tried before. For instance, online bookings and purchases may be matched with the chance of collecting goods at the physical premises of the store which will have reopened. Or purchases may be made in a physical retail point to be followed by a home delivery.  Both these systems may allow also small, local stores to increase sales and survive the current and possible future crisis.

Omnichannel retailing is a must

If, on the contrary, someone may not have an e-commerce, yet, the experience of closing down due to the pandemics, should have made its importance quite clear. It is about time every retailer got one!

Also, a special attention to the user experience should be paid: not all the businesses, especially the small ones (let’s think about the small shoes shop located next door), can actually invest in highly innovative technologies such as virtual reality or augmented reality. Nevertheless, everybody can set up a clear, user-friendly, digital sale channel with high definition pictures which do not get blurred when zoomed in, with detailed information documents, simple and functional purchase procedures ( the famous shopping cart ), which allows customers to buy things which having to log in ( personal data are collected at the shipping instructions stage ) and displays truthful and reliable special offers and discounts. The omni-channel is no longer an option, it has become a must for retailers wishing to survive.

What about the performance of your e-commerce during the lockdown? Are you going to expand it? Tell me about your experience by tweeting @agostinellialdo.

To find out more about the digital world, you may read my latest book entitled: “People Are Media” 

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Aldo Agostinelli