4 Ways Retailers Can Respond to COVID-19

Online shopping with young woman using her laptop in a chair.

These are unprecedented times for the retail industry. Shoppers are practicing social distancing and in some cases isolation due to COVID-19. Retailers are temporarily shutting their doors out of concern for employees and customers, and local governments are mandating closures and curfews with great uncertainty as to when all this will end.

A retailer’s ecosystem is vast and it’s safe to say every facet is feeling the fallout of this crisis. While it may seem like there’s no such thing as “business-as-usual” in this climate, there are ways for retailers to adjust their operations, keep customers and employees happy and perhaps set the stage for a new way of working after the worst of the COVID-19 issue has passed.

Be authentic

Every one of your customers is adjusting to a new normal. Acknowledging that and adjusting along with them lets people know you’re in this with them. Just because your customers are stuck at home, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to look good, feel good, and eat right. As people are adjusting their lifestyles, self/personal care is top of mind. You never know – web content changes you make now can become best practices in the future.

For fashion retailers, instead of featuring that designer handbag on your homepage, perhaps shift to stylish workout or lounge wear. Think about merchandising your website differently based on lifestyle instead of product category. Highlight unique or unexpected product adjacencies to keep things interesting.

On the beauty side, think about featuring video how-tos and encourage customers to try new products and looks that might not be as risky now that she can experiment in the comfort of her home without having to rush out to the office.

Grocers: focus on healthy meal preparation or how to work with fewer ingredients.

Lastly, with all of the current uncertainty, 30-, 60- and 90-day return policies aren’t going to cut it. Many people like to make online returns in store. Encouraging this practice through extended return periods can drive store traffic after the crisis has passed.

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Be transparent

Suppliers and vendors are dealing with the same issues retailers are, so keep abreast of their situations, how their limitations will affect your business, and communicate with customers accordingly. Manufacturing and distribution workforces may be reduced, which will have a direct impact on your ability to meet customer demand. You likely alert customers when items they’re browsing are low-in-stock –, now, given the speed with which certain items can disappear, consider adjusting the criteria that trigger a low-in-stock notification. When items do sell out, allow customers to easily set up back-in-stock alerts and make sure the updates you provide are timely and accurate.

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As more physical stores temporarily close, the need for contactless interactions and transactions has become the imperative. Turn your sales associates into online “influencers” where they can share curated looks and new content with customers, to keep them engaged and feeling like they’re part of your brand community – even though they can’t visit your physical store. This form of “digital clientelling” can work especially well in beauty and fashion categories.

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Encourage digital

Not everyone is 100% comfortable interacting in our digital world, and in fact, for many retailers, non-digital users represent a large portion of their customer base. Current conditions will force these customers to inundate call centers, so now is the time to help increase digital adoption with non-digital and digital users alike.

Make it easy for these shoppers to engage with you digitally through educational content, such as tutorials and guides that explain how to use your mobile app or journey through your website. And don’t forget to let these folks know exactly what you’re doing to keep their personal information safe. Raising comfort levels now can pay huge dividends when the crisis is over.

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