3 things malls and department stores can do to survive COVID-19 shutdowns: professor

Already burdened with dwindling business, malls and department stores around the country are also getting pummeled by COVID-19 lockdowns. Mohammad Rahman, professor of management at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, tells Yahoo Finance that there are three ways these businesses can survive the COVID-19 lockdowns:

  • Bolster their digital strategy to retain customers as they move to online sales and curbside pickup.

  • Ease the experience of customers who value the experience, returns and after-sales support of physical stores.

  • Take advantage of the data and digital traces previously unavailable to many of these businesses.

Rahman said many consumers visit physical stores because they perceive high levels of trust in the seller. “This is forcing an experiment on people to use these services they would not have used in normal circumstances,” he said. “You want to make sure these are the customers that stick with your brand and your store. You want to make sure you can still deliver on some of their experiences.”

Stores should also emphasize customer experience and personalized service, such as using digital tools to help shoppers find their size of clothing or desired product, and relaxing return and shipping policies, he added.

“This is a time when you really manage customer expectations and experience well,” he said. “Customers are going to be more forgiving than normal times. This is your time to convince an Amazon Prime member that you can do as well or better.”

Finally, stores that usually rely on foot traffic should take advantage the digital information they can obtain with an increase in online shopping.

"When people shop online, they leave behind bits of information about themselves, such as their location, their interests, and other data, known as digital traces,” Rahman said. He notes that businesses must study this information to become more competitive in this new COVID-19 environment.   

Rahman says that these unprecedented times also offer an opportunity for consumers to experiment with different ways to shop, such as trying grocery delivery.  

Rahman says that those who are older are not as interested in doing online grocery orders as their younger counterparts. However, that is changing because more and more people are putting a premium on safety and do not necessarily want to venture out to stores in the age of COVID-19. 

"Experiments like this are forcing experiences for the consumers who haven't otherwise looked at these online channels ... They are also learning a lot of things about [themselves]. What they may or like or dislike because of this experiment. They are wondering, 'Can I rely on online grocery shopping?' A lot of consumers are finding the answer to that right now.

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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