4 Ways Retailers Successfully Pivoted During The Pandemic

July luggage founders Athan Didaskalou and Richard Li
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Lockdown has presented retailers with extraordinary challenges. But despite the difficulties, plenty of brands have found imaginative ways to keep their sales alive and their customers engaged. Here’s how they did it.


The pivot: Launching virtual services


When bricks-and-mortar stores went into lockdown, a number of brands quickly pivoted to virtual services. Spa brand Ella Baché, which offers beauty products and treatments, was among them. “When the government enforced shutdown on March 26, we had to close all 130 salons,” says CEO Pippa Hallas. “We knew we were going to have to act quickly, so for 10 days prior [to the announcement] we had been working like mad to launch our salons online.”


That preparedness meant that on the day that Ella Baché’s stores shut, its therapists were ready to step into virtual consultations and offer sales recommendations online. “Ecommerce has been doing really well,” says Hallas, who notes that there has been a change in the brand’s online customer demographic. “We knew that the 25-35 age group was really comfortable buying online, but the 55+ group has been making it work. We’ve even had some of our customers in their 80s calling up to enquire about buying products online, and we’ve been able to take them through the process on the phone and do it for them.”

We’ve even had some of our customers in their 80s calling up to enquire about buying products online

- Ella Baché CEO Pippa Hallas

Ella Baché isn’t the only beauty brand to offer virtual services. Mecca launched 24/7 beauty broadcasting platform Mecca Live as a response to the pandemic. It offers beauty content that’s refreshed daily, as well as virtual 15-minute “beauty pow wows” or 45-minute consultations via FaceTime.


Pivot 2: Quarantine-approved shopping


How can retailers meet the needs of customers who want the in-store experience but are unwilling to venture into potentially crowded stores? Appointment booking is one option being offered by brands like Lorna Jane. The fitness retailer has introduced one-on-one private appointments, which can be booked online and are entirely contactless. The 30-minute to one-hour-long personal styling slots offer a “no-touch” bra or tight-fitting service.


Other retailers, such as Baby Bunting, offer contactless pick-up, where sales staff deliver pre-paid products to shoppers’ cars, while shopping centres such as Westfield have launched a one-stop, contactless click-and-collect service for a range of retailers. Takeaway meals, fresh food and everyday essentials can be ordered and picked up without the customer ever needing to leave their car. “In these challenging times, we understand more than ever the need to be agile and respond to the fast-changing needs of our customers,” said Scentre Group’s Phil McAveety in a statement.


Pivot 3: New product lines


While the global pandemic has caused havoc among most businesses, those in the travel industry have been especially hard hit.


As a luggage retailer, the Melbourne startup July knew that the cancellation of global and domestic travel would have major implications for their business. But they wasted no time in pulling forward the launch date for a new range of everyday bags. “Right now no-one is travelling and there’s no direct need for luggage,” says co-founder Athan Didaskalou. “It became clear that the right direction was to create products that help people on their everyday journeys, not just their holidays.”

Right now no-one is travelling and there’s no direct need for luggage

- Co-founder of July Athan Didaskalou

In addition to the Carry All bag range (originally planned to launch in July), the brand also partnered with fellow Melbourne business SABA Organics, which was struggling to get its hand sanitiser out quickly enough. “July had a shipping team ready to go and not doing much. We got together to create a Travel Well Kit for people to use in their everyday travel, and make it easier to get access to organic sanitiser. People loved it and we could use our resources for good to get the product out there” says Didaskalou.


Other retailers that have pivoted to new products include Sukin, which brought a new hand sanitiser product line to market in just 21 days. The brand also donated bottles to a range of charities.


Pivot 4: Lean into at-home content


As shoppers and retailers adapt to lockdown conditions, plenty of retailers have looked to content marketing as a way to build community and maintain a sense of connection.


At THE ICONIC, staff moved quickly to pivot its promotions and fashion shoots towards at-home fashion. The online retailer also whipped up a dedicated #StayHome navigation bar aimed at giving customers easy access to at-home activewear or workout equipment, and launched a series of online workouts from local gyms. “We asked ourselves, what is it that our customers need, what do they want to interact with and how do we deliver meaningful value to them during these unprecedented times?” says head of creative content and social Fiona Murchison.


Every new initiative was rigorously monitored and tracked. “Everything we do at THE ICONIC is backed in data, and our content approach is no different. We run a continuous feedback loop.” So far, the livestreams and workout series have been especially popular, with “strong sales performance off the back of our promotional pivots”.


Other brands to have pivoted to content initiatives include David Jones, which has launched beauty seminars and dedicated at-home Spotify playlists, and Sephora, which is offering free, beauty-inspired downloadable Zoom backgrounds. 


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