As marketers worldwide put their 2020 plans into motion, e-commerce was on a fairly stable trajectory of growth and consumer acceptance. Retail was in the process of gradually restructuring to accommodate the increasing adoption of e-commerce, alternative shopping methods like BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store), and technologies such as beacons, contactless payment, and the Internet of Things.
COVID blew that growth curve wide open. Suddenly consumers’ legitimate fears and anxieties over a highly communicable virus trumped the privacy and security misgivings that had kept e-commerce adoption at a steady pace. The transition to online-only was near-instant as the entire country went into a period of lockdown, prompting even the late adopters to hastily accept a new means of acquiring goods.
I had the good fortune to tune in and listen as two esteemed retail experts—Naveen Jaggi, President of Retail Advisory Services with JLL, and Ken Madsen of Mad Creative Production—discussed the pandemic’s impact on retail at Localogy 2020 (online) and what the future holds for retailers globally. In their ‘eTail Triggers Retail Transformation’ session moderated by Dan Hight, the two shared their insights on how retail is changing, what it means for brands, and how multi-location marketing may change as a result.
How Retail is Changing
As Jaggi reminded us, there was already an overabundance of retail space across the U.S., with 2X the per capita retail square footage as in developing markets, long before COVID-19 disrupted markets this year. Now, we’re seeing an acceleration to close stores and retail centers. So much retail space simply needs to be demolished and repurposed into something else.
Retailers will always move to where the consumers are, and that shift to e-tail began more than 10 years ago. In the wake of the pandemic, online shopping became the primary way for local consumers to meet their needs. Brands are being forced to consider the e-commerce experience first, rather than as a convenient add-on to brick-and-mortar services. It’s a hybrid way of working that most retailers are not yet accustomed to, but it is the way of the future.
Consumers have changed the way they buy and today, connecting mobile to the retail space and making it more fluid is key. Brands should be aware that value retailers will get a better wallet share during this pandemic, given the ongoing anxieties and worries consumers are experiencing around job security, health and safety, and the economy. Brands may need to consider redesigning the in-store experience and updating marketing to keep pace.
Customers may now be wondering:
Am I safe coming into your store?
Will the store be crowded?
Are there protocols in place to protect me from COVID?
The speakers also noted that brands should not expect consumers to rush stores this shopping season (notably, Walmart won’t even be open this Thanksgiving, the first time the brand has decided to close for the holiday since the late 1980s). Those who enjoy the shopping experience and are less concerned about COVID may still be willing to come in-store. Better product images, perhaps including 3D and live images, will help build greater trust with the consumer. Help them understand the experience they should expect in your retail stores to allay those fears.
Giving your customers a seamless path to purchase online will help you capture and retain those who simply aren’t comfortable making their way into one of your locations.
Curbside Delivery & Pickup Key for Retailers
According to the session, 26,000 restaurants have closed since March 2020 and 25-50% of restaurants will be lost in the next year. Yelp consumer traffic for restaurants has dropped 50% YoY. What’s more, dine-in volumes were shrinking even before the pandemic as convenience has been reigning King for some time. Consumers are willing to pay for less friction and greater ease.
Restaurant and quick service brands may want to incentivize customers to do pickup rather than delivery, to avoid the commission fees of popular food delivery apps. Going forward, we may be looking at a period of time where pickup and delivery only become the norm.
Restaurants need to adapt and adopt technologies that enable a seamless online ordering and online or contactless payment experience. Quality, speed, and accuracy are most important when ordering food; if your brand can’t offer that experience, customers will find locations that can.
For retailers, offering curbside pickup and delivery will be key in winning and retaining the business of customers unwilling or unable to shop in-store. Make sure these options are prominently featured on local listings and pages.
How Multi-Location Retail Marketing is Evolving
Your local search and social presence is key in this new environment we are living in. In the session, we learned that 60% of businesses believe that the majority of their revenue will still come from their brick-and-mortar businesses. However, the customer journey had already gone fully digital and omnichannel due to the pandemic, and a lot of marketers didn’t embrace these channels until COVID hit.
Another trend we’re seeing in local marketing is the revival of the sense of community. There is a growing need for consumers to show their support for local shops and businesses, and this doesn’t just mean mom & pop shops. Consumers understand that large local retailers provide jobs and are an important part of their community. How you engage that community and share in their experiences is important.
An effective omnichannel strategy means being present in the channels your customers are using to search for businesses like yours. Google My Business listings are incredibly important given Google’s massive search engine market share and the fact that other apps, such as Waze, rely on GMB data to power their local results, as well. Make good use of the features available to you in GMB.
For example, only 28% of businesses have ever posted a Google Post and the format is only a part of 4% of local business search strategies. This missed opportunity for them is low-hanging fruit for those who use them. You can use the new image carousel to showcase up to 25 product images, for example. Use Offer Posts to have them display longer in search results. Download this free ebook to learn how to make the most of Google Posts.
Other GMB features you’ll want to make good use of:
- Just 30% of businesses have Q&A on their listings. Be aware that anyone online can answer Q&A on a brand’s listing, so it’s important that you monitor for questions and ensure each one is answered correctly.
- Only 4% of businesses have products featured on their listing. Use products to showcase new or virtual services. Don’t have a product to showcase? Show your services instead
Learn more about optimizing your GMB listings using all of the features and attributes available to you. See our Anatomy of a GMB Listing infographic now.
Tips & Takeaways for Enterprise Local Brands
- Use Specialty Pages to showcase product collections or types of services you offer. These SEO and mobile-friendly local landing pages help your locations appear in non-branded searches for relevant products and services. They’re also packed with conversion elements like embedded local reviews, hyperlocal content, photos, and more to help customers make their decision. See an example of Specialty Pages in action here.
- Attributes in GMB are featured prominently on local listings and help convert customers by instantly answering common questions about COVID, accessibility, in-store facilities, and more. Make sure you have chosen the correct primary business category to give your locations access to the right attributes. See Mastering GMB Attributes for Retail Brands to learn more.
Stay current on the latest trends in consumer behavior. In addition to closely monitoring your own local search data and using it to inform business strategy, it’s important to understand new search features and opportunities as they become available. We’re hosting expert panel webinars regularly to keep brand marketers at the forefront of local in these tumultuous times. Check out upcoming events here.