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How DIY Retailers & Manufacturers should respond to COVID-19

DIY store blurred out

Last week, the B&Q website was down for several days. In a period of heightened stress and tension as people look to alleviate the pressures of being on lockdown by getting stuck into DIY home improvement projects, the reaction in the marketplace was altogether unfavourable. That said, B&Q is not the only retailer expeiencing problems.

Wickes is operating a virtual queuing system - with some shoppers waiting up to around three hours. This is the kind of procedure that the most in-demand retailers use for mass shopping days like Black Friday. Elsewhere, many other retailers in the home improvement space are out of stock on a considerable number of items. Indeed, DIY has never been so popular.

Because we’re all in lockdown, people have the time (and no excuse) to do those jobs that have been putting off.  While brick and mortar retail is hugely suffering at the hands of COVID-19, there are online channels that are reaping the benefit. In fact, online sales have already increased 52% compared to the same period last year.

Retailers reliant on digital commerce

The fact that there is no immediate end in sight means that retailers are becoming more reliant on their digital commerce strategies by the day, to make it through this time. And, for the home improvement category, where the choice can be staggering, variety of product ranges vast and details subtle and varied, being able to assist customers to the right product for the right usage is absolutely critical. 

This is because, while we’re all optimistic of a relatively quick end to this situation, the uncertainty around when jobs, wages and daily life will return to normal remains uncertain. This means people have money, and indeed want to spend it, but are being increasingly cautious around how, when and where. This, coupled with lengthy delivery times means one thing is for certain, they want the right product, at the right price and it is incumbent on the online retailer to help make this happen.

The #1 priority should be offering guidance and assistance

Prior to Covid-19, research showed that 40% of consumers would be willing to spend more than 30 minutes searching for the right product online, however this is not sustainable when consumers will be relying on digital channels to make all of their purchases. Furthermore, 84% of consumers are demanding more assistance and guidance when searching for products online. 

It is absolutely essential for every retailer and brand to provide new levels of guidance online as consumers navigate a new digital-commerce-first reality. Making the process of searching and finding products online conversational and feel more human is what consumers will need in this new world of social distancing and self-isolation. In doing so, you ensure consumers are able to find the products they need quickly and easily, with 24/7 assistance, in a language they understand and can engage with, and that recognises each individual consumer’s needs and circumstances. This will help consumers overcome any stress or anxiety they feel today as they turn to online shopping for 100% of their needs.

There are forward thinking companies doing this already. MSC Direct wanted to make the process of buying Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) easier and faster. By engaging buyers in a conversation, asking the right questions to narrow down thousands of options to the perfect shortlist of products based on customer unique usage it saw a 300% increase in customer conversion. Other brands like 3M, Husqvarna and Hilti are also deploying this type of technology.

Why acting today may save tomorrow?

As more DIY consumers are forced to shop online to stay safe, they will inevitably habituate searching and buying products online, even in product categories that they may not have previously considered, like paint and power tools. Retailers must shift their commerce priorities, not only to act as an emergency buffer to what is happening, but to ultimately provide long-term value to consumers, for when the world eventually gets back to normal.

Without sounding too much like a pessimist (I prefer realist), how quickly retailers meet these challenges may be the deciding factor on whether they make it through the tough times ahead.

Source: Article written by Chris Baldwin, VP Marketing, Zoovu

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02 April 2020

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