January 13, 2021
It’s no secret that Covid-19 has been a powerful catalyst for change in the retail industry. In the early months of pandemic, while scrambling to gain consumer trust, companies created quick solutions to address new standards of hygiene and safety. Now that shoppers are once again returning to physical stores, retailers are trying to build scalable, end-to-end experiences that will help their customers feel safe in the years to come.
When it comes to navigating this new normal, two brands in particular – Verizon and Suitsupply – are leading the way. Krista Bourna, SVP Consumer Sales & Operations at Verizon, and Fokke de Jong, CEO and Founder of Suitsupply, discussed their company’s learnings on stage at NRF. Here are four surprising takeaways from their talk:
Consumers have always valued personalization. After all, it’s easier to feel connected to a brand that “gets” you, or to be loyal to a company that takes the time to remember details about your shopping preferences. But Covid has shown that personalization isn’t just an avenue to drive loyalty – it’s also essential to drive the level of efficiency that consumers now crave. When shopping is a potential health risk, every second counts.
De Jong explained how Suitsupply’s approach to personalization was twofold: “We made our style advisers available virtually, so our customers could still feel that personal connection with our brand,” he said. “But we also used this information to start preparing fitting rooms ahead of time in our physical stores. When the customer comes into the store, we’re ready for them and the store experience becomes more efficient.”
Bourne agreed with this approach, citing Verizon’s deep reliance on customer data. “We lean hard on systems of insight,” she explained. “Leveraging these systems in an intelligent way to make the most use of everybody’s time has been a game-changer.”
In many ways, Covid forced retailers to explore innovative, adaptive solutions that then moved the entire industry forward. Case-in-point: Verizon’s new commitment to a “touchless” experience. Using state-of-the-art technology, Verizon shoppers can now shop, pay, troubleshoot, and even accept terms and conditions all without ever touching a pen or tablet. “Nine out of every ten transactions happening across our corporate feel are completely touchless,” said Bourne. She believes the company is just scratching the surface of this technology’s capabilities, but for now it’s served a critical purpose: “Our customers can have a shopping experience that feels 100% safe and clean.”
When asked what they thought was the most unexpected impact to come out of Covid, both panelists had the same answer: appointments. “I didn’t expect people to want to set up so many appointments,” said de Jong. “They really wanted to prepare for their store visit, have a conversation with their style adviser before they even entered the store – I would have never imagined that people would go to such lengths.”
Bourne heartily agreed, referencing the staggering 1.4 million appointments that Verizon corporate stores have booked since the pandemic hit. “It was not on a roadmap this year,” she admitted, “and it’s an example of something old that’s become new again.” The appointment infrastructure at Verizon stores is now thriving and expanding: customers can make appointments for a shopping visit in store, schedule tech support, or plan ahead for customer service. “Customers want to be in control of the time they spend with us, where they go, and they want to know what’s waiting for them when they get there,” said Bourne. “They now expect to be met with a level of readiness that’s reflective of the money they are going to spend.” Both Bourne and de Jong agreed that the appointments trend is here to stay, beyond Covid.
The biggest lynchpin in this “new normal?” People. Specifically, the employees on the frontlines who have to bridge the gap between old-fashioned personalized service and new digital capabilities. “Selling people custom suiting, adding style advice – all of this takes a lot of skills,” explained de Jong. “And then you add in a platform to connect all this to the digital realm… There’s a lot of things happening.” To cope, Suitsupply has doubled down on training, shoring up efforts to train their staff and even building out a model that can quickly scale – “so we can be ready to hire more people quickly when the market comes back,” de Jong said.
Verizon has seen this trend too. “New skills are required coming out of the pandemic: digital literacy, the ability to multitask in a meaningful way, and more,” said Bourne. “Across the board, all industries will have to double down on workforce talent development in order to stay ahead.”
From touchless technology to digital-first training, frontline retail employees now have a lot more to juggle. De Jong summed it up perfectly: “In retail, the old law still is valid – ‘every detail counts.’ But how we connect with our customers has changed, and the number of details our teams now have to control has exploded.”
Making sense of these details, and breaking them down into actionable tasks that store associates can execute, is what we do best at Zipline. If you’d like to learn more about the way we help retailers manage the “new normal,” reach out.
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