Many industries have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and perhaps no more so than retail. In 2020, retailers had to pivot quickly to keep pace with changes in customer behavior as an increasing number of shoppers took advantage of online or “buy online pick up in store” opportunities. Many retailers were wildly successful in their pivots and provide some good strategies that other industries can follow. As we enter the busiest shopping season of the year, here are some “lessons learned” from retail that PR Pros should take note of:
Despite their desire to get out of the house, many consumers are still leery about in-store shopping, and many have turned to online shopping. In fact, according to Digital Commerce 360, one in six dollars in Q3 2021 was spent online. To accommodate this change in customer behavior, many retailers have opted to modify their Black Friday deals to be purchased online and shipped or picked up curbside. They’re also extending their Black Friday deals so that they are no longer available just for a single day. For many retailers, sales that last the entire weekend or even longer have become the norm.
For the PR Pro: Think of your audience and how things have shifted in the past 18 months because of COVID. Are you listening to what the media wants and how they want to be “talked” to during this time? Reporters need information quickly, so PR Pros should pitch short and sweet messages on social media (think Twitter) or even text. The day-of the PR pitch by email isn’t dead but consider adapting your own style to fit their needs and preferences.
For 2021, retailers recognized that to secure interest and ultimately dollars, they need to advertise earlier than usual in the season and repeatedly hit customers with their promotions. According to a US News article, many consumer started their holiday shopping in October rather than November.
For the PR Pro: Depending upon the type of news, giving the media a sneak peek allows them ample time to hold interviews, do their own research, pitch to their editor, and write an article. By hyping early and often, like retailers are doing in anticipation of making big Black Friday sales numbers, you are allowing reporters to be prepared versus scrambling last minute. Plus, by securing interest early and before other potential pitches and news stories are pitched, you get a leg up against the competition and continue developing solid relationships with reporters.
Retailers need to not only be transparent with their store’s practices, like extra cleaning, mask wearing, social distancing measures, etc., but they need to communicate—and often. As store shopping and return policies change, as well as hours and customer support, it is important to be up front and notify customers, in real-time, about these changes.
For the PR Pro:
Are you communicating regularly with your target media list or just when you want them to pay attention and cover your pitch? Are you being open and honest in your pitch and avoiding a lot of spin? Media, like consumers, can see right through disingenuous statements and promises. As a product or launch changes, update your media list. They’ll appreciate being the first to know.
The Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend is simply one part of an overall year and one piece of overall consumer spending. Once it comes and goes, what else can retailers rely on? To stay at the top of consumers’ minds, retailers must be creative and digital-first to snag additional holiday shopping dollars.
For the PR Pro:
Your pitch or launch is only one part of an overall strategy—don’t bank on it to take you through the year. Consider other activities to keep the momentum flowing. Connect often with internal stakeholders, like a CEO, to keep your finger on the pulse of what he/she is thinking and so they can offer up ideas for potential pitches throughout the year.
Consumers are hungry to score holiday deals just like the media is antsy to be the first with a breaking story or unique angle to cover. Feed your audience the way they demand and be sure to adapt your strategy to accommodate ever-changing media and coverage needs.