December 16, 2021
2021 has been defined by the “post-vaccine” phase of the Covid-19 pandemic – a time of intense change for retailers as they have continuously adapted their store experience to be safer, more convenient, and more innovative.
This week, Retail Brew sat down with Lindsay Mikos, Walgreens’ Senior Director of Omnichannel Retail, and Mike LaVitola, Foxtrot’s Cofounder and CEO, to talk about the trends that resonated with their customers in 2021 and what they’re planning for the year ahead.
Here are our three big takeaways from the webinar:
When asked to pinpoint one “overhyped” trend from the past year, Mikos quickly zeroed in on a common misconception around omnichannel: “We thought same day delivery would cannibalize store trips, but that’s actually not true.”
In 2021, Walgreens launched new shopping modes with a vengeance: The chain kicked off the year by offering curbside pickup in 30-minutes-or-less, and layered on home delivery in 60-minutes-or-less shortly thereafter. But convenient offerings like these haven’t cannibalized customers’ spur-of-the-moment store trips at all. In fact, those services have been incremental to Walgreen’s business overall. “When you provide value in meaningful ways, your customers continue to return and they shop in more ways, and build bigger baskets,” said Mikos.
For digital-native Foxtrot – which started as an online only delivery app – the same realization became apparent when the company began to open brick and mortar stores. “In the last year, we’ve had this big convergence of pick-up in store, on demand delivery, and a traditional retail experience,” said LaVitola. “We assumed we would eventually see a fallback of retail traffic, but instead we’re seeing a big acceleration of both on-demand delivery and physical trips to stores.”
Like both Foxtrot and Walgreens, many retailers are now laser-focused on making the customer experience shopping across channels – online, via their respective mobile apps, from home, or in-store – completely frictionless. Letting the consumer choose where and how they want to pick up a new product is at the heart of an effective omnichannel strategy. But in order to effectively leverage the value of more customer touchpoints, retailers must first unlock better processes for training, collaborating with, and supporting their store teams. Zipline enables organizations to quickly implement multiple initiatives accurately. (And if plans change? No problem. Zipline’s streamlined approach to communication at scale keeps everybody on the same page.)
In a world where consumers can get virtually anything delivered to their doorstep within a day, why would anybody want to step foot outside and take the time to visit a storefront in-person?
Turns out, there are a number of good reasons why.
An increased focus on health and lingering unease amidst new Covid variants saw consumers forgoing trips to restaurants and bars. But without these outlets, shoppers still needed a (convenient, safe) place to escape after endless Zoom meetings. Enter: neighborhood shops and convenience stores. “Foxtrot became a place where people could get out of the house for a bit and explore a fun world of food and drink,” said LaVitola. “We saw customers turning to Foxtrot as a place of discovery and fun, so we decided to lean into that and that helped us evolve our store strategy.” This year, Foxtrot has made sizable investments in in-store tasting experiences, new merchandise, live music, and other brand activations.
From Walgreens’ perspective, stores have become even more critical due to the health impacts of the pandemic. “As a pharmacy we’re playing a big part in local communities, providing tests and vaccinations,” said Mikos. As a leader in the health and wellness space, Covid-19 has elevated the role Walgreens stores play in local communities, as shoppers look to the company’s associates and pharmacists for knowledgeable advice about services and remedies. “People have trusted relationships with our store staff, which is why continuing to take care of our associates is top priority,” said Mikos.
In essence, people are as drawn to physical stores as ever. Shoppers continue to enjoy interacting with store staff and discovering new products in-person – maybe even more than they did pre-pandemic. In a time when true human connection is becoming more rare in our daily lives, “there’s a real place for warm, hospitality-driven retail experiences,” said LaVitola.
Today’s retail brands are relying on in-store employees to not only ring up transactions at the register, but also develop personal relationships with customers, educate shoppers about product features, and provide styling advice. That’s why, In a time of unprecedented turnover, the most successful retailers are focused on differentiating their employment brand and frequently communicating directly down to the front lines. Thanks to robust communication tools that provide context, employees at these companies truly understand their role in bringing the brand promise to life, creating a sense of purpose that results in better, more authentic customer interactions.
Retailers know that the future of shopping – whether online or in store – is data-driven. And one tried-and-true way to get their hands on valuable customer data is through a robust loyalty program.
In 2021, Walgreens undertook a massive relaunch of their loyalty program, rolling out MyWalgreens across 95 million customers. “It’s really the core foundation of how we’re going to build towards mass personalization,” said Mikos.
The company started providing personalized content around vaccinations in its app, then added on digital wallet capabilities. These digital offerings helped drive consumers to the app, where Walgreens can track purchasing behaviors over time. “It’s really about getting to understand how each customer is truly a unique individual and providing and serving them with the right content at the right time,” said Mikos. Walgreens is also partnering with two technology powerhouses – Adobe and Microsoft – to continue to leverage data that will ultimately make the shopping experience for customers easier and more frictionless.
For Foxtrot, digital loyalty comes in the form of payment itself. “Most of the purchasing in our stores happens on our app,” said LaVitola. “Customers pull out their app and pay with that instead of a credit card. So we can closely monitor shopping habits in store vs. online.” Foxtrot then uses this data to inform virtually every arm of its business strategy, whether it’s by serving up personalized recommendations to customers based on their past shopping habits, or making decisions about the merchandising experience in stores. Foxtrot also leans on consumer insights when figuring out how to adjust in-store cafe menus or prepared foods offerings, “even how we lay out the ice cream aisle,” said LaVitola.
Another perk of collecting customer data is the way it can inform a retailer’s private label strategy. “If we know what customers are curious to try – new brands, flavors, categories – we can really quickly track success of those trends and then take those consumer learnings and pair with our sourcing and creative teams and create our own brands,” said LaVitola. Today, about 30% of Foxtrot’s on-shelf products are private label, with plans to continue to grow that number in the coming years.
Gathering robust customer data not only benefits c-suite operations, but also empowers frontline and customer-facing employees. After all, the more resources to support data-driven decision making across the rank-and-file workforce, strategic planning and enterprise technology staff, the greater the chances of not just surviving – but thriving. This is why the Zipline dashboard can provide information from multiple data-driven sources, and then serves it up based on a user’s role, location, and current performance. Field teams can quickly understand what they need to know, do, and plan for in order to reach their brands’ goals.
Zipline is the operations technology platform built to solve the unique challenges of communication and task management across retail categories. Reach out to learn more about how your stores can deliver on your brand promise today and in the future.
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