tech solutions

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to wreak havoc on the supply chain as well as on how, what and where consumers spend, retailers and brands are turning to technology solution providers to help manage the crisis.

Vendors are responding in a variety of ways, including offering free services and rolling out new platforms as well as helping companies “innovate on the fly.” C-level executives are also working with SEO marketers and social media consultants to ensure messaging remains consistent, clear and reflects empathy and leadership.

Insights and communication

Foremost are efforts to understand the demands of consumers during this crisis. To that end, Attentive, which is a personalized mobile messaging software platform, has rolled out “an in-depth microsite, ‘COVID-19: E-commerce Trends and Tactics,’ which the company said shares “data-driven insights and tactics for e-commerce brands to navigate rapidly shifting consumer behaviors surrounding COVID-19.”

The company has a client base of more than 1,000 e-commerce retailers and brands. After monitoring the initial impact of the outbreak on the e-commerce space, Attentive said it launched the microsite “to surface trends from anonymized Attentive data across 11 different industry verticals — including apparel, beauty, food and beverage, health and wellness, pets and more.”

consumer behavior

As consumers “self-isolate” during the outbreak, their spending behavior has shifted.  Shutterstock / fizkes

Brian Long, cofounder and chief executive officer of Attentive, said the goal was to present the data “in a way that could be helpful and actionable to our customers, partners — and to the e-commerce industry at large.”

Another industrywide, service-based effort was recently launched by Retail Zipline. Its “COVID-19 Hub” is a toolkit for companies to easily communicate with store associates. Offered free of charge to all retailers, the platform helps companies “inform teams with accurate and timely information about COVID-19, including in-store protocols to keep both customers and employees safe.”

This is especially critical for essential services retailers (warehouse clubs, supermarkets and mass merchants) that have remained open during the outbreak. Melissa Wong, Retail Zipline ceo and cofounder, said these are “truly unprecedented times and how we act and react on a personal and business level during this time will determine how successful we’ll be in navigating through this pandemic.”

Wong said by “quickly developing this COVID-19 Hub within our platform, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for retailers to communicate with their field in this ever-changing time, so that stores can stay up to date on the latest developing details in order to keep employees and customers safe and informed.”

BounceX, the marketing technology company that enables brands to recognize customers online, has continued to keep a constant pulse on traffic and conversation rates to revenue and channels and by industry, making sure all clients have relevant benchmark data.

The company is also helping clients understand how they can break through those benchmarks by analyzing what is working best and sharing advice with partners. As consumers shift from mobile to desktop use, BounceX clients have seen an increase in email open rates, which the company notes is an “opportunity for increased send frequency and cadence.”

Many of BounceX clients have also begun changing messaging three to eight times a day using the BounceX platform to deliver personalized messages to customers in a way they want to be communicated with. “This is not a time to focus on sales, but a time to provide as much value to your customers as possible and that should not have anything to do with them spending money with you,” said Ryan Urban, ceo of BounceX.

Transactions and store safety

Other free tools launching to help companies manage business during the outbreak include POPi/o’s Mobile Video Cloud solution. On March 20, the company said it “allocated 10,000 free video seat licenses for the next 60 days to help financial institutions and consumers stay safe and connected via web-based video collaboration and maintain critical access to financial services.”

Gene Pranger, founder and ceo of POPi/o, said as financial institutions “across the country are tasked with providing branch services without jeopardizing the safety of their staff or customers, POPi/o is uniquely positioned to address this challenge and is eager to help with our proprietary mobile and web video platform.” Pranger said his company is ready to “enable live web video solutions at no cost and within a week to support financial institutions as they serve their customers and maintain business continuity through this time of crisis.”

safety COVID-19

Safety is now a top priority across all of retail and services, which includes social distancing, self-isolation and temporary closures of retail stores.  Shutterstock / Daniel Ferrer Paez

For those retailers that remain open, Stop-painting.com is “offering social distancing visual cues to aid in curtailing the spread of COVID-19 and to keep your customers safe.”

As retailers encourage patrons to maintain social distancing (the CDC recommends six feet) while shopping, Stop-painting.com said visual cues “are the most efficient way to accomplish social distancing in a store environment.” The company said its floor tape and visual cue products are durable and can withstand cleaning chemicals and machines.

Other free tools

Meanwhile, Lightspeed POS Inc. said earlier this week that it is offering Lightspeed Delivery, Lightspeed eCommerce and Lightspeed Loyalty for free to support local retailers and restaurants as they adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the company has engaged its employees with its new #lightspeedlocal initiative. This program encourages employees to shop locally and support small businesses in the company’s network by reimbursing up to $500 on purchases made from any Lightspeed retail or restaurant customer. Employees in the 14 global offices are able to shop through e-commerce shopping, meal takeout or delivery.

Lightspeed has launched an online COVID-19 retail and restaurant resources guide including tools for operational tasks and for new revenue streams. The goal is to assist businesses to navigate changes in consumer behavior and help small and medium-sized companies “remain agile in the current socioeconomic climate and provide them with resources to safeguard a prosperous future.”

“Our employees and customers are at the heart of everything we do, and during this time of social distancing and uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we support them in a tangible way,” said Dax Dasilva, founder and ceo of Lightspeed. “I’m inspired by the spirit and innovation from some of our customers leveraging omni and creative home-delivery options to make the best of an incredibly difficult time. Helping others do the same is at the heart of these incentives that we are putting in place.”

Additionally, Bringoz, the SaaS-based logistics platform, has unveiled free home-delivery service support to retailers. With grocers, pharmacies and liquor stores seeing notable increases in home-delivery requests, Bringoz hopes to help companies manage automated delivery options.

“Delivery is likely to be a preferred method of purchasing by consumers going forward. There is a lot of uncertainty on how long the current situation may last, but we at Bringoz would like to be part of the solution, now and once we get the all-clear,” said Chen Grazutis, cofounder and general manager of North America at Bringoz.

Bringoz’s offer of free home-delivery service support is intended for any retailer that has had the need to shut doors though has a continued demand for a product and can offer local delivery. The company expects to extend the offer for 60 days as the situation develops.

Messaging

Aside from the importance of gleaning data and market insights, and fostering clear communication during the crisis, industry experts also said executive leaders need to consider their messaging.

Ray Carbonell, ceo of Qnary, a provider of executive reputation and talent branding services, said for fashion and retail c-level leaders, clear communication — internally and externally — is essential right now. Qnary works with clients to manage weekly social media content and comments as well as optimizing social profiles.

Carbonell said executives are too busy with the day-to-day running of their business to keep up with their social media presence. But in times of crisis, executives need to be communicating clearly and consistently — especially on social media.

“You need to be a part of the conversation, and be where people go first for that conversation, which is social media,” Carbonell told WWD, adding that the “new normal” of remote work further emphasizes the need for consistent, clear and authentic communications, “both internally with teams and externally on social media.”

The messaging also need to be positive, and executives need to exhibit leadership in their communications.

Other tech solutions

Dan Leahy, cofounder and ceo of MakerSights, which describes itself as a “product decision engine for retail,” said technology and data (including machine learning) can help retailers and brands better manage their business through disruptions such as the coronavirus outbreak.

MakerSights partners with retailers and brands to help inform decision-making “across key decision points” within the product development go-to-market process and calendar. The company taps into a database of tested products as well as conversion data to help formulate the purchase intent of consumers.

Given the current impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on the supply chain, which includes a massive inventory glut, Leahy said this is a time for companies “to rethink how they work in terms of those key decisions in the go-to-market calendar” and to consider ways to be more “digitally driven and more collaboratively driven.”

Endear Technologies, which describes itself as a modern clienteling/CRM platform, “enables retailers and brands to identify and serve consumers across channels,” the company said.

“More importantly it enables store associates to easily create ‘look books,’ connect directly with customers via various tools [text, WhatsApp, WeChat], and drive transactions regardless of channel,” said an investor in the firm. During this time, their partners — APC, Mansur Gavriel, MM LaFleur, Faherty, other luxury brands — are using the technology to have store associates still send consumers product ideas and brand information and then driving transactions via e-commerce. This keeps employees active and consumers engaged even with stores closed.

42 Technologies, a data visualization platform, allows users to create customized dashboards to better represent all brand and retailer data inflow and outflow. The platform enables executives to “dynamically manage” dashboards for executive briefings and is particularly suited to address c-suite business meetings.

Tech-supported strategies

Asaf Hachmon, ceo of Bond, said that, following the coronavirus outbreak and with Amazon “halting nonessential deliveries for the time being, retailers and brands have turned to new strategies to ensure they are still able to provide consumers with positive post-purchase experiences.”

Hachmon said consumers “want and deserve full transparency” — and this is especially true now as shoppers turn to e-commerce in greater numbers.

By way of a solution, the ceo said brands and retailers are developing distribution centers “that are local to consumers, at the heart of high-density urban neighborhoods. These nano distribution centers, and the inventory within them, are handled by local teams, optimize the delivery process, allowing for quicker, more transparent deliveries — and returns.”

Hachmon said that with the rollout of these localized centers, “it’s also important to implement technology that enables consumers to communicate with couriers to figure out what delivery options work best for them according to their terms [e.g. delivering at a certain time of day in a specific location].” The ceo said implementing these strategies will bridge the gap between “brands and consumers, and builds a full ecosystem for the future of retail.”

Woodrow Levin, ceo of Extend, said as more consumers shop online amid the outbreak, “it is imperative that brands offer solutions that give consumers the ability to track their delivery in real-time, as consumers are going to be focusing heavily on how and when they get what they need.”

Levin said online shoppers expect “full transparency, which will allow them to feel more at ease when shopping, and want the ability to protect their purchases and have them replaced if it fails.”

Brands have the ability “to keep the lines of communication open with consumers — updating them on business operations and assuring them that the business is taking every precaution both in-store and in distribution centers in order to maintain health and safety. Including having staff manage inventory with proper protective gear including gloves and masks,” he said.

The ceo said key to maintaining trust with consumers during this crisis requires brands to understand “that the entire economy is feeling financial constraints, and many consumers are being faced with financial hardships.”

Levin also said retailers and brands have the “ability to alleviate the financial pressure by putting products on discount, which may not seem like the correct thing to do, which will show consumers the brand that is sympathetic to their financial situation.” And, from his perspective in the market, Levin said brands can also offer “consumers the option to purchase extended warranties, helping them reassure that their product is protected, and financing options, to ease the pressure of having to pay for something all at once.”

“During times like these, taking the extra steps to care for your customers throughout the entire journey is and will pay you back huge dividends,” he added.