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Eric Feigenbaum

How Short-Term Pandemic Strategies Can Turn Into Long-Term Successes

Regaining customer loyalty begins with establishing trust.

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IN JUST ONE short and unimaginable year, retailers have suddenly seen their roles change from purveyors of dreams and fantasies to frontline workers providing essential goods and services. Arguably, redesigns and innovation have traditionally been at the heart of retail, always adapting to the ever-driving charge of change – never has retail needed to innovate as it does now. Facing the maelstrom of the pandemic, retail was thrust into the role of first responder for the critical needs of the community, but in a safe and effective way. No small task.

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and after 2020, it is clear that an existential ordeal is the architect of transformation. While retailers stared into the face of the storm, long range strategic plans were scrapped. These were survival-driven decisions that called for a new approach to new challenges. As the health, safety and welfare of both individual consumers and diverse communities were at stake, retailers responded by putting long-term growth on the back burner in deference to short-term soundness, safety and security.

Prior to the COVID-19 assault, retailers thought they were navigating through the most disruptive time in retail history as the debate over e-commerce versus brick-and-mortar/in-store experiences raged on. That struggle now pales before the challenges of today, and yet, it is these challenges that will define and perhaps settle the long-raging debate.

As a dim light begins to flicker at the end of the dark tunnel, it is becoming evident that brick-and-mortar will maintain its important role and position in the omnichannel hierarchy. Soon, weary consumers will be eager to shed their cabin fever for some good, old fashioned in-store shopping. That being said, they will also continue to embrace the convenience, safety and accessibility of e-commerce. Before the pandemic, retailers were beginning to acknowledge that e-commerce and brick-and-mortar needed to work hand in hand. Now, they recognize with crystal clarity that e-commerce has become the backbone of business, and it and brick-and-mortar are inexorably connected.

Quick-thinking retailers have already developed short-term strategies, but they will be wise to realize that changes in consumer behavior brought about by the pandemic will be long-term if not permanent. As retailers, suppliers and consumers all recognize that it does in fact “take a village” to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus, they are respectively adjusting their shopping behaviors and supply chain, fulfillment and customer engagement strategies. The silver lining, if there can indeed be one during these disastrous and tragic days, is that reevaluation in the face of the crises will foster positive change and promote new economic growth.

As we move deeper into 2021, it must be noted that the road back to some semblance of normalcy and economic stability will be a steady trek in the slow lane rather than an open throttle in the fast lane. As retailers rebuild, it will be studied and decisive actions that pave the way to a solid recovery instead of risky, uncertain initiatives. All strategic planning should be centered around the customer and building relationships with a weary and cautious community. Regaining customer support begins with establishing trust. In the past, retailers appealed to a different set of wants and needs. Today’s customer wants sustainability, transparency, safety and empathy. If strong relationships are forged now, long-range success will be built on a foundation of loyalty.

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Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience. He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.

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