In April, a RWS research team comprised of members from across the company embarked on a mission to investigate what independent retailers needed to succeed once the peak of the pandemic was in the rearview mirror.

The team examined studies on the effects of COVID-19 in other countries, as well as insights from authoritative researchers and policy makers, to economists and medical experts. The research team was focused on answering the twofold question, “What’s the likely scenario we’ll be facing as a nation and how will retailers make it through?”      

Due to the profound impact of COVID-19, which has fundamentally altered the business environment in which retailers operate, the team concluded three key takeaways:  

  1. The new normal period is likely to last 12 to 18 months from April 30, 2020, the date the federal government lifted the quarantine. i   
  2. Due to the fundamental shift in consumer behavior, retailers must prepare—sooner rather than later—to operate differently.      
  3. Consumer trends that were present pre-crisis, such as e-commerce and home delivery, have been accelerated, advancing their prevalence by five to 10 years in a matter of months.

As evidenced on the RWS platform, online orders across the network increased 450 percent year-over-year growth in April.

States have been in various phases of responsible reopening across the U.S., and spikes in cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations due to the virus continue to occur. i As some people have ventured out, others continue to stay home as much as possible. ii

On a webinar for retailers in May, RWS Chief Customer Officer Genna Majuta explained, “Even after reopening, there’s good reason to believe that consumer behavior will not return to pre-Coronavirus normal in the United States until one of two things happen.” According to sources at the University of Oxford and the Centers for Disease Control, these are:    

  • An effective vaccine has been developed and administered to 80-85% of the population

OR

  • A proven treatment/cure is available to 90% of the U.S. population that lowers the death rate of hospitalized patients to 1%

“It is going to take time for a vaccine or a cure to be discovered, tested, approved, manufactured and distributed and until that happens, we’re going to be in the new normal,” said Majuta. “For retailers, adapting to the new normal is the key to business survival.” 

RWS has been helping its retailer customers adapt to a new set of criteria consumers are using to make decisions: What will keep me and my family as safe and healthy as possible?

As a result of social distancing, contactless sales and delivery where shoppers don’t have to enter a store to buy has skyrocketed. While some consumers are eager to come into a store, the RWS research shows that there will continue to be a large group of shoppers that won’t. This could range between 30 to 70 percent of consumers who will prefer to shop from the safety and comfort of their homes.

A Google survey revealed that during the pandemic, 24 percent of surveyed shoppers went online to purchase something they would normally buy in-store, and 87 percent of them said they’d try it again.

RWS has been working closely with retailers to ensure they have, at a minimum, a strong online presence that meets the demand for contactless sales. A fully-optimized, e-commerce website should be properly merchandised, giving consumers an intentionally crafted experience just like in stores. And that’s not all. If they’re not already, retailers should:    

  • Ensure their salesforce can sell effectively via phone, online chat and text, using the website as the primary showroom.  
  • Train and equip their delivery team, developing new procedures for minimum contact delivery.
  • Update website messaging (and advertising) to communicate with consumers their store is open and taking the proper precautions to serve them, making it easy for consumers to do business with the retailer through a variety of options.
  • Maintain supply and availability of financing options.    

A Google survey revealed that more than 50 percent of shoppers want to know how businesses are responding to the crisis. Another survey from Google shows consumers are searching differently:

Searches for “curbside pickup” and “home delivery” grew by 70 percent and over 100 percent, respectively, over the week ending March 28.

60 percent of U.S. consumers searched online for “what’s open near me?”

The RWS team has been making everyday adjustments to retailers’ WebFronts® to satisfy consumers’ “need to know” and remain relevant and up to date. Retailers should ensure their store profile is up to date with all pertinent, timely information (store hours, delivery options, COVID-19 precautions, etc.) in Google My Business™. This also goes for Facebook and other social media as well as Yelp and other review sites.

Go beyond your website – digital advertising

There’s never been a more important time to have a strong digital strategy across your online presence. And a digital ad strategy is a critical component. For retailers that have digital advertising in place or for those who are considering it, RWS recommends the following:  

  • Make sure your content has the right call to action
  • Consider supply and demand, and focus on what’s in demand*
  • Use free tools available to you such as *Google Trends (search on Google) to evaluate where inventory is scarce or nonexistent
  • Contact RWS for more information on enhancing or launching an effective digital advertising program through its AdRocket™ software.  

The good news amidst the new normal backdrop: As a Premier Google Ads Partner, RWS has insight into additional resources that show shopping for furniture, mattresses and appliances is on the rise!   

Read the full article in the Summer 2020 issue of Digital Advisor Magazine, “Preparing for the Road Ahead” cover story.

For a downloadable “Preparing for the Road Ahead Checklist,” go to:   https://www.retailerwebservices.com/webfronts/covid-19-resources.html.

  1. Reopening of America: More than half of states will lift coronavirus restrictions by the end of the week, The Washington Post, April 30, 2020
  2. Live updates: Nine states report significant uptick in coronavirus hospitalizations after Memorial Day, The Washington Post, June 10, 2020
  3. This is where each state is during its phased opening, CNN, May 27, 2020