What Goes Down, Must Come Up:
How the Retail Industry is Dealing with COVID-19

John Nicola / SVP Fiserv Retail and Restaurant Solutions

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There’s really no way to sugarcoat it. The retail industry is hurting in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a CNN Business report, U.S. retail sales dropped 8.7 percent in March, which was the worst monthly decline since 1992 based on data available from the Census Bureau. For those retail businesses deemed non-discretionary, brick and mortar stores have been completely shuttered, and only now are steps being taken to gradually reopen the economy on a region-by-region basis.

Glenn Fodor, Senior Vice President, Data and Analytics at Fiserv, pointed out that some retailers are relying on ecommerce sales, as well as buy-online, pickup curbside to conduct business. Some areas, such as electronics have seen modest sales as customers shop for devices related to home entertainment or laptops, tablets and web cams for work at home purposes. Overall demand is historically low.

Putting Employee and Customer Safety First

For essential and non-essential retailers, the biggest priority has been helping to ensure the safety of employees and customers. Sanitation protocols, protective barriers at checkout, social distancing floor markers, and mask requirements have been amongst the steps put in place.

Many of these policies and procedures will almost certainly be part of the new normal for the foreseeable future. They will be important for creating a sense of confidence that will be crucial in getting back to business.

Expansion of Curbside Pickup Retail Options

For some retailers, curbside pickup is one of the few options currently available to maintain commerce. Stores that have online ordering need to be able to offer a wide range of options when it comes to completing transactions. Beyond credit and debit cards, consumers increasingly want choices, such as Venmo®, PayPal®, Zelle®, Alipay®, or Pay-With-My-Bank®.

Those stores that don’t already have a robust online portal and contactless system in place may consider the use of mobile point-of-sale (POS) to help expedite on-site payment acceptance for curbside pickups.

Helping Elderly and Homebound Customers

During shelter-at-home restrictions, shopping online may prove challenging for some elderly and homebound customers, who are not always trusting of putting their credit card information into a digital shopping cart. Gift cards may be an ideal way to allow these customers to shop without concern. It also presents an effective way for family members and loved ones to help out without causing the recipient to go the bank to cash a check.

Staying Top-of-Mind with Customers Requires Effective Communications

Retailers that are offering curbside pickup need to spread the word. No doubt digital communications will reach the broadest audience, but print mailers may be needed to reach a good portion of the population. As store locations do begin to open up, it will also be important to communicate new safety protocols in order to reassure customers that it is safe to return.

Maintaining Customer Loyalty for the Long-term

For some retailers, who have been able to stay open through online sales or curbside pickup, maintaining customer loyalty is a long-term strategy. Everyone hopes we will eventually return to business-as-usual, but when that will be is anyone’s guess. Letting customers know that you value them can only help down the road.

On Fiserv's Retail Industry Webinar , one retailer mentioned they were offering 50 percent discounts to all medical personnel. The thinking here is that by helping those individuals who are on the frontlines of the pandemic fight, will cement the company’s reputation as a business that views its customers as family. The same company has also leveraged Instagram, posting stories about what employees are doing during the quarantine and offering tips on how to beat the boredom. As a company, they believe they can learn from this experience, make the brand stronger, and be better prepared going forward.

While the retail industry has clearly been on a downward sales trajectory, inevitably we will survive this crisis, and business will rise again!

If your business needs help accepting online transactions or contactless payments for curbside pickup retail customers, Contact Us or visit Online Frontline for enterprise solutions for COVID-19.