Our Thinking

Back at the beginning of nearly worldwide lockdown measures, the anxiety felt by “non-essential” retailers was palpable. Uncertainty manifested itself into real consequences by way of layoffs and furloughs, not terminations. As anxious as retailers were, layoffs and furloughs were supposed to signify a temporary pause that engendered a silver lining of hope that we would all be back to work on the other side of this, in relatively short order.


Fast forward to 13 weeks later, amidst protests to fully reopen the economy regardless of the very real viral threat that’s at large, vis-à-vis the rest of the population still exercising caution and social distancing, some retailers are still somehow in “survival mode.” Survival mode, generally speaking, means the equivalent of ducking and covering to save and spend next to none, hoping that once allowed to reopen everything will suddenly go back to pre-COVID standards.


It’s a mistake. A monumentally costly mistake that is being demonstrated in the first waves of bankruptcies for retailers. Once golden and renowned, institutions of retail delight are closing swathes of locations or shutting their doors for good and, while no one can blame them for attributing these closings on the COVID-19 crisis, this doesn’t mean that other retailers are out of moves. They can still turn things around. How?


By now you’ve probably heard the crisis, from an economic standpoint, mentioned in the same breath as other key historical events – the Great Depression of the 1930s or the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 to name a few. While time will tell whether this is a fair comparison, one thing about that comparison is certainly worth talking about: how they finally ended. By spending money. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it was the radical Keynesian idea of deploying fiscal and monetary policies to underpin the recovery plan that ultimately ended both crises.


Retailers must go on the offensive and act now to retool, realign, rethink, and redeploy to adapt or, frankly, they will not survive. Yes, that means spend some money, but that doesn’t mean to spend all your money. You need to think strategically about your next move, and it has to be fast and deliberate, because staying stagnant in “survival mode” is, ironically, a death sentence, plain and simple. Even with retail being allowed to start opening up on a limited basis, the very way people shop has forever changed, so adaptation and forward thinking is the right move. Retailers need to spend time being more thoughtful than ever about what has really happened, how things have changed, and how their new reality looks. New frames of behaviour and new points of engagement have accelerated. Understanding how to test and optimize seamless points of engagement and transaction between retailer and shopper will be paramount and opportunistic.


As we now move beyond the safety and social distancing measures that all stores are expected to have in place, savvy retailers will want to think past those table stakes and respond with initiatives, ideas, in-store resets and key messaging to at once satisfy the more immediate, short-term environmental needs while also looking to the future. Opportunities will exist in the short-term and there will be a need to find them and quickly take action. Successful and effective retail strategy will contemplate the following in every action going forward:

  • Framing the new consumer psyche and outlining key characteristics/behaviours that will need to be addressed in new and different ways
  • Developing a framework for decision-making that builds alignment across your organization, prioritizes focus and investment, and drives an effective short-medium term action plan
  • Addressing store resets and new design imperatives that meet both the social distancing compliance requirements and new consumer expectations
  • Deploying effective communications strategy and design enhancements across all physical and virtual touchpoints
  • Optimizing BOPIS and curbside touchpoints as permanent fixtures in a customer’s path to purchase
  • Developing an effective omnichannel roadmap that promotes seamless and effective customer engagements


Strategy and action will bring opportunity and new life to retailers affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but as John Donne once wrote, “No (wo)man is an island.” As inconvenient as the pandemic’s arrival was, it has also demonstrated the beauty of humanity coming together to help and thrive together, reminding us that doing business, in its purest form, is not just about transactions. It’s about partnering to find the right solution to thrive together.

At Watt, we deploy unique methodologies to get to what really matters in executing a successful recovery plan, fast.


Call us, we’re here to help.