The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between Software Advice senior brand manager Rachel B. Lee and retail thought leader and author Nicole Leinbach Reyhle that occurred on LinkedIn Live in December of 2020. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
This conversation is based on research Software Advice conducted in September 2020 to understand how customers have adapted to contactless services in the wake of COVID-19.
Rachel B. Lee: This has been quite a year for retailers with a lot of opportunities and challenges. What have you observed and heard from independent retailers as they’ve navigated 2020?
Nicole Leinbach Reyhle: As we can probably all relate to, they’ve had to get used to shifting gears. This was such a sudden, abrupt change for everyone. But now, across the country and across the world, places are opening and then closing down, or they’re limited in the capacity of their stores, or the consumers that they’ve generally sold to have been impacted more than others. Suddenly they’re looking at different consumers to try to reach out to. So change has been the most common thing that we’ve all experienced, and I think with that, we’ve actually seen some really great opportunities. There are a lot of things to look forward to despite the challenges.
Lee: In one of our recent surveys at Software Advice, we saw that nearly 70% of brick and mortar retailers have been impacted by supply chain delays and almost half have experienced inventory shortages. How can retailers address these supply chain challenges?
Reyhle: It’s really important for retailers to leverage technology and have an omnicentric business. You need to be able to shift gears quickly, reach out to vendors, and have an honest, authentic conversation (about inventory delays). Because that allows a retailer to then use their technology to bring clarity to what’s sold, what they need, what anticipated sales might be, and then say, “Maybe we need to introduce a new vendor, or shift our strategy a bit into a new category.” There are a lot of challenges there, but if independent retailers are proactive, they can be more precise and in turn still be profitable.
Lee: If you’re having supply chain delays, what should you do when you’re communicating with your customers?
Reyhle: I would encourage that omnicommunication strategy. There are two things you can do here to benefit your business: Depending on the price points of what you’re selling and what might be delayed, you might still be able to make that sale but to deliver at a later date. Typically this works better for higher ticket items or bulkier, heavier items. With impulse buys, it doesn’t work as good. But if you’re looking at a higher ticket transaction where the customer knows it’s coming, they anticipate it and look forward to it. Some customers are willing to wait. You need to communicate both the opportunity to do that and then stay in touch with your customers along the way to say, “Letting you know, it’s been a week, we’re still on track for the expected delivery of January 15th.”
The other thing, too, is that if you do anticipate supply chain [delay] of your inventory, make sure that you introduce alternative inventory to help maintain the sales that you expect for your business.
Lee: For many retailers, this has been a massive transformation in their business. They haven’t been set up with an online shop. Where does technology play a role during this holiday season for a lot of these independent retailers?
Reyhle: Technology provides the opportunity for retailers to connect to consumers at both of their leisures. It’s not just about the customer getting what they want on their terms. One technology I really love is called CommentSold. It allows anybody to do a live video and customers can say, “I want to buy that.” So you’re buying it now through this comment transaction. It’s a social commerce experience. It’s offering engagement; it’s that shoppertainment experience which consumers love in store. You can still deliver that, thanks to technology, even without that physical experience together.
The other thing with technology is payment. Traditional credit cards or cash and checks are not all we’re seeing. We’ve seen Apple Pay and various other mobile capabilities for payment over the years, but now there’s even something called Quadpay that allows customers to make a purchase and pay for it in four installments versus one. It’s almost like modern layaway. As a small independent retailer, this gives your customers a chance to spend with you even if they need to split up their payments. Or they might just decide not to use their credit card this holiday season.
The final thing I’ll say to this point, even though there are many technologies that retailers can leverage, make sure you’re communicating this to your customers. Because if they don’t know about it, they can’t react to it. That omnicommunication is so important because customers are being trained throughout this pandemic to understand things like curbside pickup, buy online to pickup in store, or local delivery. Consider all the touchpoints of that shopping experience, and leverage technology to ease that as well.
Lee: Omnicommuncation means so many things. It’s not just the words that you use, it’s the technology that you use to communicate. It’s the communication as the brand, the retailer, and the consumer. I love this idea of shoppertainment.
Reyhle: When we finally get to meet face to face, let’s just say we had an afternoon to catch up and spend some time together. A lot of people do that through shopping. You stroll in and out of stores, you spend time in communities. That’s shoppertainment. We’re being entertained but we’re shopping as well. It’s so important for retailers to leverage that. Their communities will do better together collectively if they recognize the value in supporting each other.
Lee: That’s very forward thinking and social by nature; that has to be front and center. Another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is shopping locally. I’ve been really intentional about thinking who I want to support instead of going to Amazon. What’s your perspective on how to encourage consumers to come to their store?
Reyhle: With that omnicommunication approach, it means that you’re sharing with customers the sentiment and value of what it means when you shop small. For example, with receipts—whether they’re emailed receipts or printed receipts—make sure you include, “Thank you for supporting a small business.” Statistics show that 60+% stays within the local economy when you spend at a small business within a local economy. The average consumer probably isn’t having these discussions everyday. As a retailer, position yourself to help your customers recognize the value of supporting small. You can do that through some great free graphics available at shopsmall.com. For Small Business Saturday (November 28th), they provide templates where you can enter your own business details and share those graphics on your social media, but they also have great statistics you can share.
Also support other small businesses in your own transactions. Leverage your call-in order. A lot of these great small businesses welcome those phone calls. “I will walk you through the store as a personalized appointment and show you what we have.” It becomes more of that one-on-one experience that so many of us customers enjoy. Encourage your customers to leave Yelp or Facebook or other online review sites reviews. It helps with visibility.
Lee: Not all small businesses are thinking about marketing and messaging and communication, but small things like that even on the receipt…that’s a really smart idea. I know that if I went to a restaurant and they said, “Hey, you just gave money back to our community,” I’d feel really good about that.
Reyhle: There’s a reason as individuals we pick the communities we live in. A lot of that is based on the character of the community that is being built by the small businesses that make it up. You mentioned Amazon earlier; Amazon does have a bad rap in terms of the independent, small business world. But a lot of independent retailers are now leveraging external marketplaces to help move inventory; so if you are shopping on Amazon, you can still support small businesses. Just look at who the seller is so that when you make a transaction, you can choose to shop handmade on Amazon, or look for the sellers who are smaller businesses. So as a customer, we just need to make choices. As retailers, we need to help educate our customers.
Lee: You were recognized as a retail futurist. It feels like 2020 was all of the future and all of the present wrapped [up together]. It’s all too real for us. Things that maybe we predicted would take a few more years to instill at a mass level are happening quicker. What’s your perspective on 2021? What are the things we’ll continue to see, and what does the retail future look like now that we are still experiencing a pandemic?
Reyhle: I think what we saw in 2020 was an accelerated approach to hybrid retail, blending the digital and the in person. I think that 2021 and beyond is going to have a heightened sense of bringing back customer care. As retailers, we can no longer be average. We can’t even be just good. We need to be great. We need to be the type of great that when you have a drink with a friend on a Sunday afternoon, you want to [tell that friend], “Oh my gosh, I just went to this store, and let me tell you about that experience.” That usually goes one of two ways: They’re going to tell you something awesome, or they’re going to tell you something bad. Average doesn’t get remembered. So if you are delivering a poor experience, that will be remembered. If you are delivering an amazing experience, so will that.
Customers are making purchases from the leisure of their home or office, but they’re physically going to pick it up. Or vice versa, you might go somewhere and have it shipped, or you might offer private appointments so you can shop solo in a store environment. All of this can be catered to with technology. I love that some customers look at the payment options first to see which retailers accept. So that customer concern, the customer’s heightened expectation is going to be really accelerated, and it’s going to be exciting. I think we lost it over the last few years, and we’re bringing it back.
Lee: [In October], we had Customer Service Week and CX Day, and we talked all about how important [customer service] is. When you say customer care, there are a lot of things to be thinking about. Small businesses and independent retailers are really the closest to their customers. To wrap this up, can you capture two or three key tips for small businesses to not just get through the holiday season, but to excel through it into 2021?
Reyhle: My first tip is don’t wait or hesitate any longer to incorporate any additional insight, technology, vendors…Whatever it might be that you know is going to help advance your business. There’s still time to implement these details that are only going to help you in the future as well. I hear too often people say, “Oh I’ll wait, or I’ll do it in the New Year.” “Wait” should never be on your to-do list. You should just do it now. Go ahead and move forward, implement new technology, new vendors, new marketing, new strategy, and of course, new communication to your business so that you can heighten your overall opportunity. I always say be proactive in order to be more precise in order to be more profitable. And if you can do those things (that includes analyzing the details of your business, your employees, your inventory, and customer care), you will continue to move forward despite the changes and challenges ahead.
Lee: How can people keep up with you?
Reyhle: You can always follow at retailminded.com. I’m pretty active on Instagram and Twitter as well, so you’ll want to find me at the handle @RetailMinded on Twitter and @RetailMindedWorld on Instagram.