Retail marketing and operations wouldn’t be as complicated if they were all about creating the same store experience over and over again. But the cookie cutter plan doesn’t work in the age of localization and omnichannel customer experiences.
Corporate-level marketing and operational managers need processes and communication that can work on a store-specific level, even when this requires accommodating hundreds or even thousands of stores.
So how can corporate marketing work with their regional and store teams to provide a localized yet brand-consistent experience? Let’s consider solutions for three distinct challenges that retailers regularly face:
1. Fostering community connection;
2. Reacting to extreme weather events;
3. Hiring and retaining quality associates.
Community events provide an opportunity to connect
A 10K race route runs close to a location. A local music festival brings heavy foot traffic adjacent to a franchise. An annual Christmas parade creates crowds across from a store front.
Each of these presents opportunities to shine in front of customers, both loyal and new. And fumbled awareness and preparation could spawn the opposite effect.
Incorporating local events into store planning will yield positive results. Develop a process where individual stores create a calendar of events and an alert system that provides a runway for specific marketing efforts. This plan should involve a discussion of the specifics of the event with associates so they know in advance what to expect, what to focus upon and perhaps even some of the history and local sentiments attached to the event.
Consider reaching out to community leaders about potential sponsorships and joint promotions and develop a social media strategy that “@s” and hashtags the event, either on a corporate or individual store level (or both).
Will specific products be more in demand based on the type of event? If so, make sure to match inventory to demand well in advance and consider discounts or promotions that will appeal to potential customers. Perhaps displaying certain products out front with a mobile payment system will increase the ease of sales for customers prioritizing convenience.
And, of course, collect data during the event so you better understand customer wants and needs and then incorporate that analysis into your plan for the next year.
Severe weather requires circumstance-aware planning
Keeping track of the weather isn’t just for personal reasons. It’s part of retail. A week of heavy rain and flooding, tornado warnings, unusually high or low temperatures or heavy snowfall can urgently change the nature of your customer, what they want and need and how they can or should be served.
Work toward systemwide and standardized in-store and omnichannel communication and processes that anticipate scenarios, while recognizing the potential issues will be different in Phoenix as compared to Seattle or Vermont or Miami.
These could be situations that require store closures for safety reasons for both customers and associates. Business and employee communication should encompass a clear action plan, including precautions to protect your store and its inventory.
Communication with associates and customers isn’t just about the front door being locked and displaying a makeshift sign. It also could include text or app messaging, social media, emails or automated phone messages. The information should be clear and succinct, leading with safety protocols but also including messaging about adjusted store hours or reopening dates and times.
And don’t forget to review and analyze what went smoothy and served customers and associates and what didn’t work as well as anticipated. Crisis situations – don’t forget the pandemic – provide learnings and data just like all other aspects of retail. These, too, should be incorporated into planning and protocols for the next time they are needed.
Easing staff challenges, both hiring and retaining
Whether it’s termed the “Great Resignation,” the “Big Quit” or the “Quiet Quit,” hiring and retaining capable and motivated associates is a challenge, though it’s possible that economic headwinds might change the trend.
This also can be seen as a necessary and positive transition for retail and other businesses. Valuing and prioritizing the hiring and retaining of good employees more so than in the past isn’t a bad thing.
That said, retailers still must create the best possible experience for their customers, and that means looking for alternative solutions to staff woes while also recognizing and responding to a potential cultural shift.
So, there’s a two-pronged approach here. First, invest in and incentivize your workplace and associate experience. That includes bonuses, perks, benefits, raises and scheduling flexibility. Improved training and highlighting clear paths to promotion and career advancement also boost the cause of retention. Second, outsource or invest in technology that can automate some processes and replace manual labor, such as self-checkout, customer service, administrative work and inventory management.
It also helps to get creative with recruiting, whether using outside services, social media or old-school job fairs.
And, yep, collect and leverage data to better understand the labor market and your business’ needs so you accurately aim your resources and initiatives.
To summarize, retail marketing and operations leaders can meet and overcome issues with a consistent approach:
1. Strategize and plan for specific challenges in advance;
2. Collect data that reveals the successes and shortcomings of those plans upon execution;
3. Recalibrate so your plans better meet your future challenges.