This is a question that every brand and retailer annually asks itself starting in Q2. But it’s a question that takes on added significance this year as we’re seeing certain companies significantly consolidate their advantages during the pandemic at the cost of lesser-known brands. Holiday growth estimates, which I find to be overly optimistic, are not rosy. Holiday travel looks likely to be way down. And does anybody really want to picture what Black Friday looks like for physical retail in 2020?
Consumers know what they’re getting when they order online from Amazon, Walmart, Target and the like. But if you’re not looking to put up with Amazon’s nonsense, you want to own the customer relationship or you just don’t see a path to success working with the big players, what can be done to get the consumer come to you?
Help Them Out
National Parks and outdoor recreation destinations such as Moab, Utah and Jackson Hole, Wyoming are seeing record attendance numbers. Quite a few of these newfound outdoor recreation enthusiasts had no previous experience purchasing products or picking destinations. This is a huge opportunity to guide behavior and become sticky.
Mervin Manufacturing’s Board Finder on their Lib Tech site is a great example of easing the burden for a first time shopper. REI, ever on top of things, has tips on training for backpacking and how to read topography maps for newbies to the lifestyle. These are the kinds of digital experiences that help first-time customers immediately feel comfortable with your brand for the long run.
The outdoor space is hardly the only industry seeing rising opportunity. Gaming and entertainment, alcohol, hobbyist goods, etc., have all seen explosions in the amount of interest and direct-to-consumer dollars available. But when people can’t touch and feel, they need a replacement.
Give Them Ideas
I have made a massive list of movies and tv shows that I plan to consume over the next few months as the weather becomes inhospitable to outdoor activities, patio dining, etc. Am I going to get burned out after yet another run of binging on Netflix and Hulu? Almost certainly. And I have no idea what I’m going to do when that happens!
Yet I haven’t seen companies that are supposed to be “good at this” going after my time or money. Oddly absent are the overtures from Kindle, Dick’s Sporting Goods (where I bought pandemic exercise equipment), or cancelled services from past years such as NHL.com. People are desperate for activity for themselves and for their families. Be their North Star and you’ll reach eyeballs and wallets.
In the first few months of the pandemic, my friends and I routinely did Zoom calls that would last a few hours. I don’t think we’ve done a single one since July. This lack of continued communication isn’t surprising. It also very much resembles the sheer horror my friends and former colleagues who spent all day on the phone for work would show when asked to pick up a phone to do something as simple as order a pizza. As a result, it is an awful idea to make people sit on hold, go through automated systems or make them fill out a bunch of forms.
Simple, easy-to-use channels of communication are going to be essential for the foreseeable future. If a customer calls, have somebody available to answer the phone. Does your site have a contact us email? Respond quickly. Live chat and any tool you can think of to communicate with potential customers should be staffed to the best of your ability. Obviously, funds are tight in most businesses right now, but this should be an absolute priority.
The companies that will survive and thrive over the next several months are going to be the ones that make an effort to stand out through customer guidance and experience. Every ounce of effort possible should go towards being the companies that people want to interact with and praise to their friends.