MELROSE PARK, ILLINOIS – MARCH 23: A customer has a new television delivered to his vehicle at a … [+] Best Buy store on March 23, 2020 in Melrose Park, Illinois. Best Buy has closed all of it retail stores to shoppers to help curtail the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), but allows customers to place orders online or by using the Best Buy app and have the merchandise delivered to their vehicle at the front of the store. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Confronted with the escalating coronavirus crisis—and the shockingly dramatic sales declines many brands are experiencing—companies need to re-think their ways of doing business. In some cases, these new efforts are in direct response to the specific challenges posed by the global pandemic. As just one less radical example, some stores are shortening their hours to give their operations teams time to sanitize and restock shelves while at the same time creating special shopping windows for their most at-risk customers.
While many retail and restaurant chains have been offering curbside pick-up as a customer convenience for years, and others have been testing and scaling it more recently, social distancing and growing operating restrictions are forcing retailers to get more creative. While “shelter in place” orders are making take-out and delivery-only the new normal for most restaurants, Best Buy just shifted to a curbside-pickup-only model. While interest in many of the consumer electronics giant’s products is sagging, the chain is seeing surging demand for items that help people work from home. Keeping its store closed for normal operations while offering this new service—along with online shopping and virtual customer service—allows the company to keep some revenue coming in while conforming to the near-term market reality.
Consumers’ enthusiasm for ever more convenient digitally enabled, store-executed options has been obvious for some time, helping explain the rapid adoption of harmonized retail features such as buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS). The brands that were early to embrace the blur between e-commerce and brick and mortar broke down organizational silos and deployed new programs that responded to shifting consumer desires, giving them a competitive edge over those legacy retailer that mostly sat around and watched. And many of the fastest-growing newer digitally native brands like Warby Parker and UNTUCKit never created these artificial boundaries in the first place, recognizing from the outset that the customer is the channel.
It remains to be seen whether most retailers will maintain their enthusiasm for curbside pickup and other innovations spurred by the current crisis. Clearly some deployments will be largely idiosyncratic. But I suspect many will persist once some semblance of normalcy is restored, as they either will have pushed retailers to do what they should have already implemented or will have exposed latent consumer demand.
It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Perhaps desperation is its father?
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