Although more than 300 million U.S. residents are under stay-at-home orders, now is an opportune time to engage in meaningful dialogues with customers, encourage e-commerce sales and prepare for store reopenings. While uncertainty exists around timelines for retracting social distancing measures domestically, China’s recent reopening provides optimism — particularly for the fashion industry.
WWD reports that Hermès recorded $2.7 million sales on the day its flagship store reopened in Guangzhou, and Louis Vuitton saw growth in excess of 50 percent since its mainland China stores began reopening in mid-March. Even with economic challenges, customers continue to seek shopping experiences.
First, continuing communications during the current crisis provides brands and retailers with unique opportunities to convey their ethos, potentially attracting new consumers while enhancing continued relationships. For example, Eileen Fisher, headquartered in Westchester County, N.Y., connected with hard-hit White Plains Hospital, which needed isolation gowns.
After finding a fabric supplier in New Jersey, the company already has turned out more than 1,200 gowns for the hospital while also creating face masks for local essential employees, all sewn by their patternmakers at the Eileen Fisher headquarters as contributions to the local community. Sharing community outreach, activism and positivity on social media allows companies to shape their narratives and remind customers of the brand’s unique identity —and societal contributions.
Second, digital consumption continues to rise. Quite quickly, seemingly everything has gone online, including routine tasks such as grocery shopping and doctors’ appointments. The serious realities of the COVID-19 pandemic already shifted market trends. Older consumers who previously shied away from ecommerce, for example, now join the majority of Americans spending more time on digital devices.
According to Statista, 31 percent of consumers aged 65 and above anticipate that they will increase e-commerce spending as a result of the pandemic. The overall increases continue to rise across channels, especially mobile phones, tablets and televisions. Companies can capitalize on these market movements by providing appealing content and targeted advertising digitally.
Third, as the Chinese market exemplifies, when nonessential businesses again are allowed to operate, consumers will return to shopping hubs. European developments also suggest positive progress, as countries such as Spain slowly lift lockdowns. Germany, for example, allowed shops with a size of up to 8,600 square feet to reopen on April 20, and consumers flocked to them. Eventually stores Stateside will reopen, and retailers and brands should use time now to prepare.
Judgment remains crucially important as consumers will remember how brands reacted during this crisis. This includes displaying appropriate sensitivity to both today’s challenging climate and customers’ unique circumstances. Below are some suggestions that retailers and brands may wish to consider, remaining cognizant of their customer bases, to remain relevant during this unprecedented time. Such efforts may ultimately increase brand loyalty as well as sales, both online and eventually in stores:
- Continue or begin advertising campaigns on digital platforms, adjusting media type usage and shifting budgets among channels as necessary. For example, if your brand does not already have a mobile app, now is a good time to develop and launch one.
- To the extent possible, utilize location-based data to understand consumer behavior and identify business opportunities. This information will be incredibly instructive as different markets will reopen at different times. While you may need to consider emphasizing e-commerce sales to your New York City market for a while, perhaps another part of the country will lessen social distancing measures sooner and in-store sales will resume quicker.
- Offer free content on digital platforms along with links to e-commerce purchases, or, as discussed below, “click-and-collect” purchases. Remember that now more than ever, consumers want their purchases close in both time and proximity.
- Consider “click-and-collect” sales if you operate stores in markets where they are allowed, even in part, to remain open. This allows customers to place orders online for pick up at brick-and-mortar stores now.
- Provide incentives for customers currently delaying purchases. For example, use social media to let customers know of plans to run promotions when stores reopen, which can encourage enthusiasm and sales.
- Begin developing “drive-to-store” advertising now in anticipation of reopenings. Use social media to keep customers informed of your company’s status, including community outreach and future plans. This will allow you to optimize your customer’s screen time in real time and promote eagerness for store visitations.
Monica B. Richman is a partner in the New York office at Dentons. Mary Kate Brennan has an LL.M in fashion law and is an associate at Dentons, specializing in litigation, anti-counterfeiting and international transportation of goods.