To make the most of a COVID Christmas communication is key
Retail expert Richard Knight of customer experience specialists Insight6 extols the virtues of planning and communication in the run up to the most unusual Christmas in a lifetime.
This year, more than any other year, Christmas is going to be about preparation.
This will be particularly important in the way you set up your store to encourage the confidence of your customers – we still don’t know what’s going to be happening at the end of the year.
Things may have opened up more, but they may have locked down again – so how can you get ready for this in terms of consumer confidence levels?
You need to work with your loyal customer base from now until November to prepare them for coming to you rather than going to the supermarkets. That confidence, or that behaviour pattern, has become interrupted due to COVID, so you need to reinstate a behaviour pattern that will lead them towards readily thinking about your store as the place to go for Christmas.
In practical terms, that means you have to keep asking your customers how they’re feeling, starting now up until the Christmas period, and keep an eye on their confidence levels. What may or may not happen with COVID will affect their confidence, and if you’re aware you are more likely to be able to do something about it that’s beyond the government guidelines.
You have to be able to adjust and react to it and be as agile as possible – and the key thing for that is to be gathering insight. To do this you can ask people in the shop how they are feeling, or, ideally, a ‘visitor checker’; if you have a mailing list, utilise that data and ask people: ‘On your last visit, how confident were you about coming to our store? What was working well for you and what did you think we were missing?’ If you don’t, start getting that data so you can ask these questions!
Surveying your customers can give you a chance to offer ways of interacting with you that may be slightly different from before. Previously, consumers may be thinking of visiting your deli at Christmas to purchase some lovely cheeses, but we don’t know what the economic situation is going to be, so they may need a stronger reason. People’s ability to spend may be greatly reduced. With that in mind, is your customer base going to be willing to pay your prices, or do you need to stock a broader range of products and price points? Again, though, this comes back to communication – you need to be gathering insights from your customers about how they are feeling about shopping with you.
Again, it’s all about being prepared. When the first lockdown happened, independents had to react quickly, setting up collections, deliveries and e-commerce where they may not have done before. Now, though, is the time to think about whether you will be able to continue those at Christmas should we encounter a second wave, or if the systems you put in place are fit for purpose.
The festive period could bring an extra opportunity as well. Where there is a possibility that people may not be going out, eating out and spending time out of the home with friends and family in big groups, they may be spending time at home in smaller groups. So perhaps your customers will be buying earlier in the Christmas season because they don’t want to risk going out into the wider environment. As it looks like events like office parties are unlikely to happen, I think that key Christmas week may extend back a few weeks. But, again, to understand that you have to ask your customers.
Fortunately, we know that food businesses will be able to be open no matter what, but it’s how you will get your products to your customer. You have the time to prepare, so do it. Even if you’re only offering a stripped back ‘Christmas essential’ range through click and collect, you need to have plans in place now.