Why Nimble Is The New Must-Have For Brick-And-Mortar Retail

  • August 28, 2020 at 8:00 AM EDT
  • By Melissa Wong, Retail Zipline
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They say necessity is the mother of invention, and we’re seeing this play out in retail. Brick-and-mortar retail businesses have looked very much the same for the last hundred years, but lately, they’re starting to act more like technology companies. They’re implementing more A/B testing solutions, pivoting to meet the customer and making decisions faster than ever before.

The future isn’t certain. All retailers are going to have to figure out what to do to survive. They’re going to have to experiment to find the best path forward, and then follow up quickly with other good ideas. As we learned from Darwin, it’s not the smartest that survive, it’s the ones that adapt to change the quickest. Here are three examples of how retailers are changing as a result of COVID-19.

Take A Number Please

Reservations are coming to retail. In an effort to avoid overcrowding in stores and to eliminate peaks and valleys, some stores are now asking customers to make an online reservation before visiting the store. Best Buy announced in May that it would allow customers to schedule in-store consultations in about 200 of its U.S. stores.

Reservations for store visits allow customers to continue to have the joy of in-store discovery without facing restrictions on how they must navigate the store. It also allows store teams an opportunity to develop better relationships with customers and foster more of a personal connection.

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I Know It’s Not What You Signed Up For But…

Rather than furlough store associates, some retail brands are finding new ways to capitalize on their talents. One of our beauty customers is transitioning store associates to work the support desk and take telephone orders from shoppers at home. It’s working out well because these employees have great product experience and understand the needs and wants of customers.

Other brands are repurposing store associates to help with curbside delivery. A recent TotalRetail article encourages this move, saying, “Retailers must own the delivery/pickup portion of the business, instead of outsourcing it, to make this work.” Why? Associates are the heart of the brand experience and can make (or break) a customer interaction.

Other retailers, like Target, are “redeploying store team members to pick, pack and ship orders to meet the increased demand for shipping orders to customers’ homes.” This redeployment allows the employees to keep their job and makes it much easier to bring back associates when stores reopen.

Online-Only Stores [sic]

While it sounds counterintuitive, some grocery stores are converting their stores to online pickup only. This is a great example of a brand understanding customers’ needs and meeting them where they are. Kroger recently announced that one of its stores in the Greater Cincinnati area would be “pickup-only,” as the company works to meet growing customer demand for alternative shopping methods.

The Key To Business Agility Is Communication

It takes a very strong captain and crew to change course quickly. Agility is a massive competitive advantage that every retailer wants today. In fact, the retailers that can’t adapt to changes required of them, whether safety procedures or customer trends, will very likely be gone tomorrow.

Today, only 29% of directions sent to stores are being executed correctly by store teams. This means that marketers, merchandisers and comms teams are wasting thousands of hours each year planning for campaigns and programs that will never be effective. It also means that retail brands can’t be agile and turn on a dime.

The most agile retailers empower their store teams with effective communication that is organized, received and understood in an actionable way. They educate teams about why something is being asked of them and provide context to the work so it’s just not a single action, but rather one step that’s part of a larger brand vision or initiative.

In many cases, managers are young and lack extensive business experience or education, so providing context helps guide prioritization and enables the store teams to be better guardians of their business. These managers are running multi-million dollar businesses and they’re making day-to-day decisions that impact brand perception and comparable store sales. HQ has the power, through communication, to make them better leaders and stewards of the business.

In a recent interview with Zipline, Corey Bouyea, Senior Manager Store Operations at L.L.Bean, said, “…recent events simply remind us how important it is to continue to raise the bar to ensure our people know the what, who, how and when of everything we do.” Empower them with the right communication, focus on show, not tell, and watch your teams flourish and become more nimble than you ever thought imaginable.


Melissa Wong is the Co-Founder and CEO of Retail Zipline, the leading communication and execution platform for retailers. She is passionate about retail communications, having served as a corporate communications manager at Old Navy for more than 10 years. Wong studied at Bates College and currently lives in San Francisco.

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