The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges to e-commerce as well as retail stores worldwide. Retailers felt the pain when consumers stopped spending money, despite a heavy debt load and a shrinking customer base.
E-commerce companies faced vendors going out business and disruptions to supply chains. The pandemic crisis showed something fundamental, not only for individuals but also for organizations. How would we, professionally and personally, react to adversity PulseTV did not plan to just survive. We also asked how we could reorganize our resources to thrive.
New Product Categories
There was a shortage of hand sanitizer in the country at the beginning of March. PulseTV attempted to buy it from every vendor but was unsuccessful. We contacted an industrial cleaning supply company in our area to see if they could make the sanitizer. The Purifize formula was then created and we were off to the races. Within weeks, we sold millions of dollars of sanitizer.
PulseTV also has a section for ” flu and Virus Protection“. This includes masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes as well as other personal protective equipment (PPE). We created the ” Stay At Home” section with retro games, puzzles, coloring pages, and other exercise items when the lockdown struck the country.
These new product categories resulted in a tripling of year-over-year (YoY), sales for PulseTV’s e-commerce company. Because PulseTV was considered an essential business, our office and warehouse were open during Governor’s executive lockdown orders. To ensure that our staff would not be inconvenienced on their way to work, we provided masks and sanitizer to local fire and police departments. Every employee was required to carry a letter identifying PulseTV essential business with them in their car.
There were huge supply gaps that needed to be filled because of the crisis. PulseTV’s normal marketing strategy is to create demand for impulse products. This is mainly done by emailing daily deals to more than 6 million subscribers. We don’t wait for consumers to demand what we have. We are too impatient to wait for people searching for what they want. Although creating demand is more challenging, it suits our style.
Our approach was temporarily altered by the pandemic. We didn’t invent the need for sanitizer or masks. This was already available. We simply let the public know that these products were available. We actually tested three banners for our web campaign. The winning creative simply said ” We have Masks & Shipping today.” We increased our ad budget 10X. Media rates also dropped as local advertising, travel and restaurants chains stopped advertising. The rates fell by more than 70%.
- Magento Pos
- Shopify Pos
- Bigcommerce Pos
- Woocommerce Pos
- Netsuite pos
- Bigcommerce automation
- Shopify automation
PulseTV opens a pop-up shop, Masks and More Outlet
PulseTV does not market products that are available for shipment. Many people fell for the “Amazon trick”, where sellers claimed that they had “In Stock and Shipping by XX”. This could mean that XX could take up to 60 days. Many people ordered from Amazon.com without knowing the shipping details, and were frequently tricked by the “In Stock” status.
We noticed that many people living within 10 miles of our office called to ask if they could pick-up orders for sanitizer or masks at our office. All of them were concerned that orders from Amazon would be delayed. We set up a table with hand sanitizer and let masked individuals pick up the orders. This was becoming a common practice.
However, the above behavior was not enough to get PulseTV to open its first brick-and mortar store. PulseTV’s headquarters is in the South suburbs of Chicago. The retail sector was already suffering from the pandemic. But now, every shopping center and mall has shops gone. More than 30 percent of the retail spaces in our area have been left empty and their signage has been removed. This is alarming and very depressing. The commercial real estate market is in deep depression.
However, this buyer’s market was key to PulseTV opening its very first pop-up shop, Masques and More Outlet. Our store was created to respond to the pandemic. There was ample space. As a “pop-up” store, we were able to negotiate a month-tomonth lease. The space that was previously $8000/month was now $1000/month. This included utilities.
We opened the doors on August 1st, 13 days after receiving the keys. We distributed a press release about Masks and More Outlet’s opening in Orland Park. It is located just four miles from our warehouse. We were interviewed by the local CBS affiliate ( view this), and local newspapers picked up the story.
The store is currently staffed with PulseTV customer support personnel. We exceeded our expectations in the first month. In September, we opened two additional locations in the same area. With a 55% gross product margin, the first month’s sales will surpass $40,000 The success of Masks and More Outlet is dependent on the availability of attractive lease rates. Although we have over 2,000 square feet, we only use 500 square footage for 110 SKUs.
Masks and More Outlet sells as Seen on TV products at deep discount. PulseTV’s purchasing power allows for deep discounts and still maintaining margins. We can currently fill shifts in the first and second customer service stores, but we had to hire full-time managers to manage the pop-ups that we have opened.
PulseTV has many ways to expand its retail presence. One way is to open “owned and operated Masks and More Outlets.” There are plans to partner with organizations and people who want to take advantage of the current economic converging conditions. Pop-up shops require minimal construction. You’re ready to go! To build a site, we spent less than $7500, including signage. PulseTV offers consignment inventory for partnerships. We offer a license and distribution agreement for those who want to open their own Masks and More Outlets without the need of partnering.
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Not every crisis has to be fatal. You can make it through any crisis if you are flexible in your business model and with your resources.
The Future of Brick-and-Mortar retail: Contactless, but Experience-Full Part 2
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, retail has experienced major shifts. We have fundamentally changed how we live outside our homes and whether we even go out to shop. Brick-and-mortar retailers had to drastically restructure their operations from click-and collect to focusing on online shopping. The salespeople that customers encounter when they visit a store will play a crucial role in ensuring the survival of retailers as states open up and shoppers feel more comfortable venturing outside.
Retailers have been talking for years about the importance of their associates to their success. Some retailers have shown that they believe their associates are crucial to maintaining and building personal relationships with customers and providing personalized advice to help them make informed purchases. Most retailers are just talking.
All retailers need to put their words into action and support store associates in bringing to life the “instore-at-home” experience for customers. Retailers should make use of existing talent to bring the digital experience to life. This is because they can add a human touch to the customer journey, which will soon be digitized and contactless following the pandemic. Associate could transform today’s online shopping experience into something that is more engaging for customers and increase revenue for retailers by upselling and instilling customer happiness.
Customers can get online shopping consultations to help them choose the right product for them. An online salesperson could advise a customer that their chosen model might not be large enough for their family and direct them to a better option. It could also look like shopping assistance for elderly people, who will need to continue their daily lives with extreme caution until they have reliable COVID-19 vaccinations. The elderly may need additional guidance because they are less comfortable with technology. Imagine an 85-year old shopping online for the first time. He is looking for gardening equipment and navigates to the website of a hardware store to find it. There, he is greeted by a college student who is tech-savvy. He is able to find the right items and a variety of plants. The associate guides him through the process and helps him pay online for all his purchases. This was a triple win: the store gained a new customer online, the senior was able get all he needed and had it delivered to his home. He also has a greater self-confidence and is now ready for digital interactions in the future.
Digital technology can make shopping in-store more convenient and enjoyable for customers. Although most retailers offer touchless shopping, it is often sterile and does not reflect the important aspects of the relationship between customer and retailer. Customers can walk into brick-and-mortar stores, pick up their goods, pay, then leave. Customers do as fast as they can, and don’t even get to talk to anyone. They may wish they were invisible and feel safe. This strategy won’t win customers loyalty and is therefore a loss.
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Customers are more open to suggestions for new shopping methods that will improve customer safety and help retailers grow their business. Customers who shop for apparel and beauty products can be urged to schedule appointments for personal service. Small format stores, such as specialty grocers, could offer digital information about wait times and store capacities to encourage customers to shop on low-traffic days. This would allow customers to get in and out quicker and meet fewer shoppers.
Retraining Associates to Excel in BOPIS
No matter what post-pandemic scenario unfolds, consumers will continue to demand BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) regardless of the outcome. Retailers must improve the speed and accuracy with which they pick up orders. They should also group high-speed items together to meet this demand. These are key factors for success in the aftermath of a pandemic.
In-Store Order Picking Must Be More Efficient
The current inefficient order-picking process is based on a single representative fulfilling one customer’s order and then traveling around the store looking for products. Click-and-collect’s future uses a group of associates to pick products in their respective departments or areas. This allows for significant time savings and efficiency. Back-of-the store associates then can pack the products into the appropriate customer orders.
It’s not enough to improve the in-store supply chain by using technology and batch picking better. Many retailers are switching to new models that allow them to outsource fulfillment to customers. Whole Foods fulfills orders in some dark stores, i.e. stores that were once open to customers, but have been converted into fulfillment centers. Albertsons has created fulfillment-only facilities that allow associates to handle customer orders, rather than converting stores. Kroger has also opened automated fulfillment centers in partnership with Ocado.
Reorganizing high-velocity products, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer in one place of the store can increase efficiency and speed up fulfillment of most orders. These steps are just a few of the many ways smart-shelf technology can improve order fulfillment. It also could enhance customer experience in-store. The technology is available right now and provides data to associates that pinpoints exact items’ locations in-store, as well as stock levels. This technology could also be used by consumers to find the shelves that contain products from their shopping lists. Then, they can use it to map a more efficient and streamlined route through the store. It could also be used to scan the QR code on the shelf to find information on the product’s label. This would eliminate the need to go and pick up any product that has been touched by another person.
The COVID-19 crisis has seen consumers’ shopping habits change rapidly. They have also changed their priorities regarding when and how they get their merchandise. These changes give us a glimpse of how shopping may look after a pandemic. They also offer retailers the opportunity to provide customers with an experience-full shopping experience that is safe, enjoyable, simple, quick, and tailored to their needs.
COVID-19 has prompted retailers to transform their retail supply chains and operating models in order to be more resilient, flexible, and sensitive to the changing retail environment. This idea, although it is more pressing due to the pandemics, is not new. Since long, retailers have known that customers need contactless shopping options. They have also talked about this idea for years. Retailers must act now if they want to survive the crisis and succeed in the post-pandemic period. Customers can shop more safely and enjoy a better shopping experience with new digital and in-store operations management. Retailers can also use their associates and other resources more efficiently and thoughtfully.