25 July 2024, 10:43
By Andy Stockwell Mar 22, 2021

Marketing and morality

Did the retailers that chose to put their own spin on the Government’s lockdown guidance really weigh up their options – and the potential long-term impact? Gardiner Haskins buyer/manager Andy Stockwell shares his thoughts …

‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ – it’s a simple, effective message, with little (if any) room for ambiguity.

So, if your business has been classed as ‘essential’, do you have a moral obligation to open? Or, if the definition is open to interpretation, is it right to stay open – or should you ‘do the right thing’, and stay closed?

The whole situation is an emotive one. Are businesses really staying open as a public service, or because they will do whatever it takes to survive, even if that puts people at risk? Is it such a bad thing to want to keep your business going, and to protect the financial and emotional investment you’ve worked so hard for and the livelihoods of yourself and all those you employ?

Maybe there is no right or wrong answer – but, if you are still trading through lockdowns, how should you go about it?

January is the busiest month of the year in the furniture business, fuelled by winter sales with big discounts. 

January 2021 was different. Most retailers solely selling furniture were closed. Online was the only way to make a sale – the internet became king. The online operators suddenly had an advantage – this is literally their domain, their expertise, their bread and butter.

So, how can store-based retailers compete? They have to up their game and play to their strengths – service, heritage and reputation. 

Stores benefit from something which internet retailers can only dream of – customer loyalty. Customers want to make big-money purchases locally. They want a point of contact if things go wrong, a number they can call, a real person they can talk to, someone they know and trust to sort things out if it goes wrong.

This is the battleground on which marketing must focus. 

Even online, price is not necessarily the deciding factor. Consumers will pay a little bit more for peace of mind and personal service. Knowing your retailer has your safety as well as your cash at the forefront of their operation gives a customer confidence. Your website and social media needs to reflect this.

Of course, you need an online presence to start with. For all the other marketing methods that can be used, in a pandemic it’s the website and social media which have the most reach. It’s been a growing trend for over a decade, but coronavirus has accelerated the impact of online marketing and retailing by years, maybe decades.

If you have a website already, make sure it’s up to the job. Make sure you have product on it. Make it clear what you have, make it easy to navigate and make it an extension of your business. Make it about service, and make it personal.

All of this applies if your store is still open as well, but there is a different dynamic at play. If you are open during lockdown, it’s because you are classed as essential retail, selling essential products. This doesn’t apply to standalone furniture stores, but some general retailers will be affected, and it’s important to set the right tone.

It’s a difficult balancing act. You need to take enough to cover the costs of opening – but is it right to be encouraging people to visit your premises during a national lockdown for anything other than essential products? 

It certainly doesn’t feel right to have a big sale event with discounts and incentives. The whole purpose of this is to drive footfall – not a problem as an online strategy, but morally unjustifiable in a pandemic.

Instead, stores need to focus on being open for essential needs, serving the community when they need it most, and explaining what they are doing to keep customers safe if they need to venture out. How safe they feel may be the determining factor between choosing to shop with you or at another store, or staying at home and taking their business online.

Getting this right is crucial – both for making enough sales to make being open viable financially, and for protecting your brand reputation going forwards.

Get it wrong, and you risk long-term damage to your brand, positioning it as one which is seen to put profit before people.

This article was published in the March 2021 issue of Furniture News.

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