3 strategies for a frictionless customer experience during COVID-19

Brian Dennis | Mar 30, 2020 Brian Dennis 03/30/20

The retail industry is formulating a new normal for shopping, which means still putting the customer first—while also prioritizing the health and safety of employees and consumers. Retailers aim to make shopping as frictionless as possible, but when the typical shopping experience comes to a screeching halt due to circumstances beyond your control, the customer experience looks a lot different.

We’ve narrowed down the three things all retailers should start with when strategizing for a frictionless customer experience given our current circumstances—and provided examples of retailers going above and beyond in a time of uncertainty.


Strategy #1: Make sure messaging is consistent

Retailers are making operational changes every day and customers—whether longtime loyalists or first-time shoppers—shouldn’t have to comb your website, business listings, or social pages to learn what COVID-19 precautions you’re taking. Ensure operational changes are available on every consumer-facing touchpoint, including:

  • Adjusted store hours
  • Health and safety measures
  • Available product pickup options
  • Any item limits

Use banners or pop-up notifications on your website or app, send personalized outreach emails (without inundating their inboxes), and provide concise information on your business listings and social pages. Letting customers know the changes before they begin their shopping journey can alleviate any confusion or frustration they’re already experiencing in other aspects of their lives.

Old Navy: The national retailer updated their business listings to “temporarily closed,” released timely communication via email, placed consistent memos about closures and safety procedures across all social media accounts, and included a banner on their website.

Target: As a retailer deemed “essential” and allowed to remain open, Target still took careful consideration to communicate what changes were being made for the health and safety of customers and employees. Their website and business listings have been updated with limited store hours, their Order Pickup and Drive Up services are getting extra attention, and they’re reserving designated store hours every Wednesday for customers at high risk of contracting coronavirus, like the elderly and immunocompromised.


Strategy #2: Tailor experiences to complement the new customer journey

Prior to experiencing a global health pandemic, retailers focused a lot on the cross-channel experience and making sure customers were happy both in-store and online—and while that’s still important, retailers must adjust their priorities accordingly. Aside from essential retailers like Walgreens, Target, and CVS, the closest you can get to an in-store experience for many brands is curbside pickup or the drive-thru. For retailers that rely on the in-store experience to sell products and earn the loyalty of customers, this poses a challenge.

By offering unique alternatives to the in-store experience that sets them apart from competitors, brands can make up for the lack of facetime with customers. Social media and digital technology have been a great asset for many retailers in this area.

Sephora: As a beauty retailer, many customers rely on the interaction with team members to compare, test, and select products while in store. With that no longer being an option, Sephora has turned to their social media pages to post tutorials on popular products, respond to customer inquiries, and share self-care tips for consumers. They’re also offering free shipping on online orders.  

Guitar Center: The music retailer chain faces a unique challenge, as one of their popular in-store experiences is music lessons. Instead of suspending lessons in the face of COVID-19, Guitar Center has moved all lessons online to the Zoom platform, providing students the face-to-face time they’re used to on location.


Strategy #3: Offer adjusted purchase + pickup options

As the current shopping options are in flux and changing daily, retailers are forced to adhere to the new standards of fast, frictionless, safe—and sometimes contactless—check-out practices. Whether customers are purchasing through a digital touchpoint, over the phone, or at a self-service kiosk, the experience shouldn’t make them feel uneasy.

Buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) has shifted to buy online pick up curbside for many retailers, which probably wasn’t an option previously. Shipping has been getting faster for years—but as COVID-19 continues to impact the retail industry, many brands are also making it less expensive by lowering the minimum spend for free shipping or eliminating those costs altogether. 

Dick’s Sporting Goods – The sporting goods retailer implemented contactless curbside delivery where customers can buy online, choose the “pick up in store” option, drive to their selected location, and then call the store to tell an employee they have arrived for their order.

Sainsbury’s – U.K.’s second-largest grocery chain is limiting the number of people in their stores with queuing systems to encourage social distancing. In addition to reducing the amount of checkout lines open, they are introducing safety “screens” to separate customers from employees and encouraging the use of self-service kiosks.

CVS – As an essential service, the pharmacy giant will remain open, but it’s waiving charges for home delivery of prescription medications—a service that previously started at $7.99 for same-day delivery. They’re also piloting drive-thru COVID-19 tests in certain areas.


The new normal of retail

These are unprecedented times—and with new information being released every day, it’s not certain when shoppers will be able to return to their favorite stores. Until that time comes, it’s imperative every retailer adjust their strategy to be as helpful to consumers as possible. How brands handle business during the coronavirus pandemic will certainly affect how customers feel about them after.

For assistance in navigating the retail world as it’s turned on its head, visit SMG’s COVID-19 resource center.


Brian Dennis | SVP, Customer Experience – Retail

Customer Experience Update