The COVID-19 pandemic is testing mass market retailers on two major fronts.
Target chairman and CEO Brian Cornell received a lot of attention recently when he spoke about how consumer behavior has changed since the arrival of the novel coronavirus in the U.S., and what it will take to get shoppers to feel comfortable about returning to stores. During a National Retail Federation webcast, Cornell said that coming out of the pandemic the new normal will require that the highest priority be given to protecting the health of people in stores, along with strengthening omnichannel capabilities.
“There’s going to be an even greater focus on safety,” he noted. “For years, I talked internally that one of our goals is to become America’s easiest place to shop. I’ve now challenged our team to say, how do we become the safest place to shop, and how do we make sure throughout the shopping experience that we’re thinking about safety.”
Cornell is on the mark regarding what needs to happen as states ease restrictions on business activity. With the recent steep rise in COVID-19 cases, however, Target and other retailers should also heed his advice about offering a robust omnichannel experience.
Walgreens Boots Alliance shares that vision. Building on the digital transformation strategy that vice chairman and CEO Stefano Pessina launched in January 2019, WBA is working with Microsoft and Adobe to create personalized, omnichannel health care and shopping experiences for Walgreens and Boots customers in the U.S. and U.K. By providing a unified view of the customer, the new technology and data platform — beginning with beauty care in Great Britain and pharmacy in this country — will, in the words of Shelley Bransten, corporate vice president for the global retail and consumer goods industries at Microsoft, facilitate “personalized interactions, connected online and in-store experiences, and high-quality customer service.”
WBA, Target and their peers are doing what’s expected of great companies — knowing their customers and evolving along with them. Amid the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 and a host of other urgent issues, that capacity is a prerequisite for continued success.
As Cornell said, “So we’ve seen kind of an ebb and flow every week. From a leadership standpoint and from a team standpoint, we’ve learned to be really adaptable and flexible and nimble, because every week’s been different during the pandemic. There are so many new dynamics that we’re putting a premium on being really responsive, really agile, really flexible.”