Omnichannel Retailing: The Savior of Non-Essential Retail for the COVID Crisis

May 18, 2020
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The Coronavirus pandemic or COVID-19 is emerging as one of the most critical global crises witnessed by humanity. Being identified as a virus outbreak initially had soon emerged as a global pandemic.

It has essentially disrupted the economic, political, societal scenario of global nations while the healthcare system is enduring the harshest impacts of this pandemic.

Current Market Crisis & Challenges

Everyday personal and professional affairs have come to an abrupt standstill as lockdown and social distancing measures are being implemented worldwide.

Looking at the ever-growing trend of COVID-19 positive cases as well as the death rates, the virus containment measures are anticipated to be highly stringent in the forthcoming days, weeks, and might be months.

Production and Manufacturing Shut Down

Almost all industries, be it fashion, communication, logistics, have encountered the brunt of this global pandemic, especially, the manufacturing, and production-based industries. The entire supply chain has gone for a toss as most production and manufacturing facilities are shut down uncertainly.

However, governments and authority bodies across the globe have taken requisite measures to make the essential commodities available to the general public with a set of guidelines in place. While we are at it, the essential commodities include grocery items, medicines, essential daily usage products, baby care essentials, etc.

Sale of Non-Essential Items Dropped

Realizing the opportunity in times of crisis, several retailers have tweaked their strategy and focusing on strengthening the supply of essential commodities. While it may represent an opportunity for the essential item retailers, the scenario for non-essential item retailers still appears gloomy.

That being said, it’s not really true that customers are completely unwilling to purchase the non-essential items. It’s just that non-essential items might not be a top-notch priority while the general public stays in home confinement.

Zero Footfall at Offline Retail Stores

How are the non-essential item retailers dealing with this scenario? It seems, two approaches are gaining precedence. While a set of retailers are waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic and expecting it to end, another set is operating with a skeleton crew.

With the lockdown in effect, brick-and-mortar stores have witnessed a diminishing footfall. And, anticipating stock inadequacy, shipping delays, and the ever-present fear of contributing to the viral spread, most retailers have temporarily shut down their distribution centers as well as their eCommerce stores.

Unsold Inventory and Overstocks

Though this might lead to some cost-saving in the current times, retailers are going to deal with a much massive crisis once the pandemic is over and they have to soon resume their operations.

Retailers have to get rid of the outdated inventory and replenish their warehouses and distribution centers with the products in demand.

The Solutions

Now that we have a clear perspective of the problem, it’s easier said than done to chalk out and act on the solution. And, omnichannel retailing seems the best course of action considering the COVID-19 pandemic and its upward trend.

Retailers must adopt the omnichannel approach to reach out to the customers, both existing and potential ones. This may prove unequivocally pivotal in the times of crisis and may earn the retailers a massive base of loyal customers. Stay home, stay safe have been the prominent pledge, lately, yet, how safe is your inventory inhouse?

This is for the retailers to ponder as unsold inventory in the warehouses and distribution centers can be translated to a massive amount of lost sales and revenue. So, how inventory can be stored without tipping the cost scale towards a higher end?

Retailers may adopt the below approaches.

Buy Now, Deliver Later

Staying on the top of mind of the customers has always been a priority for the retailers, and eCommerce businesses. The global pandemic COVID-19, however, has disrupted the brand-customer interaction and needless to mention the loyalty.

With the logistics constraints, disheveled supply chain, and anticipated shipping delays, customers are hesitant to purchase non-essential items. Retailers have come up with a combat strategy. They are accepting the purchase orders from the end customers with the promise to deliver the items once their brick-and-mortar stores are open.

However, this “buy now, deliver later” strategy may backfire for the retailers. With the considerable gap in the order and delivery schedule, customers have the window to cancel their orders at any point. These cancellations may translate to lost sales opportunities.

Inventory Stocking in the Distribution Centers

Keeping inventory in the distribution centers seems a good strategy as this will reduce the time to ship the items to the customers.

Retailers may employ a skeleton crew of store staff to pick-up highly essential items from the stores and to transfer them to the eCommerce fulfillment centers.

With this, retailers can operate with a minimum capacity of employees and follow the social distancing norms. However, all this back and forth shipping may tip the cost scale to a higher end.

Shipping with Minimal Contact

Though the exact cause of COVID-19 spread is yet to be known, contact with anyone or any item that has been exposed to Coronavirus may make one more at the risk of contracting the virus. Thus, retailers have come up with a “BOPAC” strategy that involves a minimal level of contact.

“BOPAC” is the abbreviation for Buy Online, Pick-up At the Curbside. This has the ultimate advantage of minimal contact. Besides, the payment is completely done online, which eliminates the risk of direct contact between the delivery staff and the customers.

That being said, retailers must ensure that their employees are willing to follow the requisite guidelines. Here are some of the best practices that every omnichannel retailing brand must consider.

Re-establish Customer Connections

While keeping the sales and revenue streams afloat and active is essential, keeping the customer connection intact is more than essential ever.

The COVID-19 crisis has definitely put a damper on the brand-customer engagement. Still, brands, retail, or otherwise must attempt incessantly to keep the conversation rolling. Here, comes the role of omnichannel.

Retailers must reach out to their existing customers through all the digital mediums such as the brand website, apps, eCommerce platforms, social media, emails, and may also leverage push notifications and alerts to keep the customers engaged.

Besides, retailers must act on strategic initiatives to amplify their online presence. Home deliveries for both essential and non-essential goods are expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the upcoming days. Thus, retailers may opt to promote shipping offers to attain a competitive edge over their counterparts.

Apart from bolstering customer connection, retailers may also opt for the below strategies.

  • Be honest in your communication and the marketing strategy to reestablish the brand-customer trust factor
  • Be pragmatic enough pertaining to the discounting strategy and offers
  • A unique and creative idea may earn the retailers the much-needed impetus to rise to the top
  • Get the future assortment right the first time

If you are interested to explore more on omnichannel retailing and what it has to offer in the times of the COVID-19 crisis, do reach out to the experts at Vinculum today!


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