Retailers are struggling to stay connected with customers as stores close, resources grow limited, and customer needs seem to have shifted for the time being.
I've been following how brands have been responding to the crisis and gathered some of the best initiatives. It’s my way of celebrating what these teams are doing and (hopefully!) giving you a few ideas on how to tackle the coming weeks.
We did a live Q&A session with Monki, The Sole Supplier and Hobbycraft on how they're responding to the crisis, watch the replay here.
So, here's what brands are doing to keep customers engaged and reach new customers:
- Figure out what customers want
- Focus on the essentials to avoid customer frustrations
- Take the in-store experience online
- Put educational and helpful content first
- Win brand love and new customers by entertaining
1. Figure out what customers want
It's critical to get an immediate sense of what customers want right now. Some brands, like Superdrug or Monki, polled their community on socials early on. Here's what they heard back and how they're adapting:
Superdrug: customers want to stay healthy during the lockdown
The health & beauty retailer is now doing quick fitness challenges and sharing mental health tips on their Instagram account.
They've also updated their website based on insights they got from analysing community conversations, putting Coronavirus-related updates first and answering shopper health questions.
Monki: their community wants positivity and style inspiration
Julia Strandman, Social Commerce lead at Monki, says "we've always has that kind of close relationship with our customers, so reaching out to them right now felt natural. The response we've gotten couldn't be clearer: our community still wants fashion and positive things that can take their mind of the pandemic." (check out the full Q&A we did with Monki on how they're handling the crisis here)
The fashion brand is now hosting "outfit of the day" contests on their community platform, and sharing winning looks on the brand's socials.
This week's theme is - very fittingly - loungewear.
My takeaway: You may not have a platform or app where you can get direct community insights, but your social team can put up a quick poll and ask customers how you can help.
More than ever, it’s important to listen to your customers and adapt your communications as the situation evolves.
2. Focus on the essentials (and avoid customer frustrations)
Today's most sought-after items are hand sanitizers (by far the #1 product right now), soap, thermometers and paracetamol. We’re seeing customers get frustrated when communication around these products isn’t clear.
Here’s how brands are tackling this issue and reassuring customers:
Leclerc: use video to reassure on product availability
One of France’s biggest grocery stores, Leclerc is posting weekly warehouse videos tours on FB and LinkedIn. They want to prove there is no need for people to stockpile.
Superdrug: the COVID email made relevant
Every brand is sending COVID-related emails to what seems like their entire customer base, regardless of whether they’re a loyal customer or not.
It's made many of these emails feel less than relevant, and the trend is being called out:
Superdrug focused theirs on product availability and restrictions for its most sought-after products:
Leroy Merlin: centralize all COVID-19 information
A smart way to avoid sending more emails than you need is building a dedicated FAQ that centralizes all COVID-19 related questions.
This is Leroy Merlin’s FAQ right now, one of the biggest DIY retailers in Europe:
If you want to make sure you’re covering all key shopper questions in your FAQ, we’re compiling the full list of questions online shoppers are asking right now.
3. Take the in-store experience online
A few brands are finding creative ways of leveraging in-store talent and taking part of what makes the in-store experience so powerful, online.
MAC: in-store makeup artists are advising customers online
The brand’s famous makeup counter artists are taking over the brand’s social media accounts, answering beauty Qs from shoppers on their website and sharing daily tutorials.
Pictured below: MAC's make-up artists will answer shopper Qs live every weekday from 2 to 4pm
Neoness: star coaches are hosting daily fitness classes
France's biggest fitness brand was one of the first to launch live fitness classes to help people stay fit during the lockdown. They since launched 4 extra daily classes and coaches are sharing mental health and cooking tips.
The brand more than tripled their Instagram followers since the start of the lockdown.
I personally follow the brand's morning yoga sessions to get ready for work 😊
My takeaway: Smart brand strategy. This is a great way to stay connected to loyal customers who might be frustrated about not hitting the gym or going to their favorite store.
They're also reaching new customers looking to stay occupied during the lockdown and humanizing their brand.
4. Put educational & helpful content first
People are adapting to a new and stressful situation. Brands helping customers solve new problems right now fare better at staying connected with customers and earning brand trust.
Leroy Merlin: helping people fix stuff on their own
The DIY retailer knows people might be unable to get an appointment when they need something fixed right now. Or, people might not want to let a stranger into their house during the pandemic.
So, they've been pushing detailed tutorials on their online store and an open hotline for people who need help with repairs around the house.
“How to fix a leaky faucet? How to unclog a siphon?” are some questions Leroy Merlin answers to help people during the lockdown:
Michaels and Hobbycraft: helping parents keep kids busy
Many parents are trying to juggle working at home and homeschooling/keeping their kids busy during the pandemic.
Michaels, the biggest Arts and Crafts retailer in the US, created a new segment on their website that curates DIY projects for kids.
Hobbycraft is organising daily craft clubs on social media with weekly themes, links to the products people need for the project and a gallery of featured projects. The craft clubs were originally held in-store, and it's been a way to bring that in-store community online.
"It's a forum for sharing creativity and for kids to maintain positivity right now. We have a fantastic community of independant crafters and mummy bloggers who were so excited about sharing what they're doing with their kids with us. It's how we got video content, how-tos, instagram takeovers..." - Lauren Hoyal, Senior Creative Content & Social Manager at Hobbycraft. (Lauren shares more about this project and upcoming campaigns in our Q&A)
Gymshark and Reebook: fitness at home made easy
"At times like this, when there's a lot of change in everyone's lives, a lot uncertainty and stress, it's really important to maintain your physical health because it has such a huge effect on your mental health." - this is what Gymshark founder Ben Francis said about the brand's commitment to staying active at home during the lockdown.
Many fitness or sports apparel companies have followed their lead and are helping customers to keep moving while they're stuck at home.
Gymshark is posting home workouts and organising hourly live fitness broadcasts from 10am to 10pm every day with personal trainers from around the world hosting their sessions:
The brand's founder posted a video on how they've been affected by the pandemic and how they're adapting their communication plan.
Reebook asked its Twitter followers what kind of equipment they have at home so they could provide adapted home workouts.
Stay healthy while working from home! Tell us what at-home equipment you have and we’ll customize a workout you can do from the comfort of your living room.💪— Reebok (@Reebok) March 13, 2020
They also created the hashtag #PermissionToPause for their website where the brand is sharing home workouts from brand ambassadors and UGC.
My takeaway: This is a smart way for brands to stay engaged to loyal customers and reach new customers through online classes or shareable helpful content.
5. Win brand love and new customers by entertaining
It will be crucial for brands to stay relevant and keep organic traffic high in the coming weeks, even when closing physical and - in some cases - online stores.
The good news is, people are now spending more time online and looking for entertainment more than ever. Internet use is up 50% and so is time spent on social media.
Some brands have been great at leveraging that extra attention and using it to cleverly stay connected with customers.
Jennyfer: hosting daily social hangouts + Web series
The French Gen Z fashion brand closed their stores and online shop and is now focusing on staying connected with their customers.
At 5pm everyday on Instagram and Tik Tok, they're hosting a social hangout and share the best fan-submitted contributions.
The brand also launched a new web series called #Break. The aim is to entertain their fans during the lockdown.
Everyday at 6pm, they have a new episode with 3 segments:
- Positive COVID-19 news of the day
- Positive anecdotes of the day presented by a youtube affiliated to the brand
- Community generated content: best posts & tips to stay occupied during the lockdown from Jennyfer fans
The Sole Supplier: encourage off-topic conversations that lift community spirit
The top UK website for sneakerfans is seeing great results and a sharp increase in UGC by hosting Animal Crossing meetups, community-run gaming tournaments, sneaker collection challenges on Instagram...
Emily Atkins, Digital Marketing Exec at The Sole Supplier, says: "Our community is getting involved more than ever. We're 25% up on UGC, 50% average increase in story impressions on Instagram and I'm personally feeling a lift in community spirit too." (Check out the full Sole Supplier Q&A on how they're engaging their community right now)
Made.com: sharing people's home setups
The designer furniture brand created a list of tips for their community on how to "Instagram their place like a pro" and is asking fans to submit pic. The best pics are then shared by the brand on social media.
It's a smart way for the brand to generate UGC and share inspirational home designs with their social media following.
Monki: spreading positive vibes
Remember how Monki polled their community for what they were looking for during the lockdown?
Their fans asked for “positivity” and the brand is now sharing customers’ dog picks, playlists curated by their store staff, hosting netflix parties, and a lot more.
The brand is also asking people to share their tips to stay inspired and busy during the lockdown on their online community "The Monkisphere"
Whittard of Chelsea: humanize your brand
The global tea brand didn't just send out an email to talk about how customers can reach them right now, they added tips to stay active during the lockdown and work from home pictures from their team. A great way to humanize the brand and avoid the "standard" COVID-19 email.
Brewdog: hosting 1000s at the world's biggest Online Bar
Every day at 6pm, the BrewDog online bar opens to some news from the Brewdog team, followed by a pub quiz, beer tastings and live shows. The brand says it's their answer "to how we can still be together, share a beer and stay safe".
Thousands have joined from all over the world - everybody brought their own beer.
LEVI'S: daily live music to make staying home easier
Levi's has up and coming musicians take over their Instagram at 5:01pm every day (a play on the brand's most iconic jeans). Lives are followed by thousands every day.
5:01 LIVE with @jaden. Tonight after @harryhudson at 5:01pm PST. Tune in for his live performance and comment below what songs you hope to hear.— Levi's® (@LEVIS) April 11, 2020
Stay home, stay connected. #UseYourVoice pic.twitter.com/H61wCdVEWN
Undiz: sleepover parties & dance lessons
The French sleepwear brand is planning co-hosted sleepover parties with an influencer and a fan of the brand (they were making chocolate cake in their respective kitchens).
They're also hosting dance lessons every day on their Instagram page, watched by 2,000 people, with many followers posting their routines: