Many retailers are faced with the question “now, what” when it comes to their retail communications in the post COVID-19 landscape. If anything has become abundantly clear in the wake of the coronavirus, it’s that there are few set rules or guidelines for companies to follow in such a situation. While government-mandated closures are beginning to expire in some parts of the country, there is still much uncertainty about the manner in which to approach re-opening—especially for retailers. It is unclear what it means to “return to normal,” or if such a scenario even exists. And there is ever-mounting scrutiny—from employees, customers, media, and government—over the decisions that retailers do make, and how they communicate the plans to move forward.
In a way, this situation is a double-edged sword for companies—making a wrong move can deteriorate corporate reputation, but there is also opportunity for the companies that do it right to generate invaluable goodwill. Never has it been more important to be mindful, purposeful, and strategic in retail communications. As retailers navigate challenging questions about the when and the how of re-opening, it will serve well to keep the following tips in mind for communicating with all key stakeholders:
Allow the communicators at your company to take a strategic seat at the table. In many cases the key communicators at a company—whether it be marketing, PR, or somebody else—serve to disseminate information outward after decisions have already been made, but do not have a say in the decision-making itself. The current situation calls for a drastically different approach. Every retailer is facing uncharted territory, but communicators have the knowledge of how the public is likely to respond to decisions. It is key to allow them to be part of the decision-making, to have communications at the center of strategy.
Employees must be at the forefront of communications. As one of the most critical stakeholders of a retail company, employees need to be reassured of their personal safety, health, job security, and financial well-being in order to support a successful re-opening. Furthermore, a survey by JUST Capital shows that the public’s primary concern is how companies are protecting employees during the crisis1. So, from an internal and external communications perspective, employee well-being is paramount. A great way to understand which actions and messaging will resonate with employees is to allow for a direct upward communication flow. Listen to employee feedback, ideas, and concerns over store openings—this will help to make the right decisions and ensure buy-in from the front lines.
Now is a perfect time to communicate purpose. As retailers navigate decisions balancing public health, job security, and financial resilience, questions of corporate purpose are naturally at the center. Questions of: what is the right thing to do, corporate goals and priorities, and what it means to be in business during a challenging time. Not only is it a time for retail leaders to reflect and find that purpose, but it is also a time to be vocal about it. At the moment, people are listening—they want to hear leaders speak about the direction forward and the values driving decisions. Retailers should take the opportunity to embrace leadership and transparency to build even stronger relationships with employees, customers, and the public.
Retail communications and communicators face significant challenges—and opportunities—in the forthcoming stages of re-opening. With the tips outlined above, retailers can navigate the twists and turns to come out ahead. To learn more about our retail services, visit our Retail Consulting page.