Retailers and Digital Initiatives Amid COVID-19 and Beyond*


What is the current state of retailers amid the worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?    

When it comes to activewear and athletic footwear, it has been a roller coaster in the 2020 market, according to the NPD Group. While sales of the latter items were up in low single digits in both January and February combined, the pandemic plummeted the sales by approximately 40% in March. By April, sales decreased about 50%. 

The market then experienced a bit of recovery in May. By June, it increased by approximately 25% thanks to the addition of limited edition releases. According to Matt Powell, the vice president and senior industry advisor at the NPD Group, although June was looking up, it was not enough to offset the weak results of the previous months. When combined, athletic footwear sales in the first half of 2020 declined in comparison to 2019 across different markets. 

“I believe the sales trend will be weak for the balance of the year,” Powell said.  

In order to face the challenge of low sales while maintaining and growing the customer base, retailers have opted for strategies that relied on digital initiatives. Fleet Feet, a shoe chain in the United States, is an example of such a company. There are 181 Fleet Feet stores within 37 states, and the company traditionally put an emphasis on in-store experiences when it came to customer satisfaction. 

While the advent of COVID-19 resulted in the closing of brick-and-mortar stores, online business for Fleet Feet saw significant growth. As a response to the changing consumer behaviour and the pandemic itself, the company began to offer a digital fitting service for its customers. 

According to Matt Werder, the director of retail experience at Fleet Feet, the pandemic made a positive impact on those who wanted to work out via either running or walking. “As a result, the demand for our services and products remained very high, even while almost all of our stores were closed for a period of time, Werder said in an interview with PYMNTS.

Recently, Fleet Feet also announced an innovation to its own fit id technology. Using 3D scanning technology, fit id takes accurate measurements of one’s feet. These measurements pertain to width, length, and even arch height. Afterwards, a customer receives personalized insole and shoe recommendations based on the scan’s findings. 

“Outfitters can then assess your unique stride and step using Dynamic Pressure Mapping,” the official fit id website explained. “The pressure plate records your foot’s path of motion and weight distribution as you walk to show you exactly how you move. The pressure data provides even greater insight into finding the right shoes for you.”

In terms of other ways the company is using a digital-first approach amid the pandemic, it is using emails as a means of effective communication. According to Werder, the company uses emails as its primary method of providing customers with information about new products, sales, events, and training programs. He noted that the Fleet Feet is unique in its approach to email marketing by virtue of creating content on a national level that is then supplemented with local content. 

“This allows every customer to receive the most relevant information, keeping them informed on everything specific to where they live. Beyond email, we also have a strong presence and following on social media, with both national and local pages on all the major platforms,” he told PYMNTS.

Additionally, Werder noted that the increasing popularity of no-contact payment methods would become highly sought after by retailers as consumer behaviours continue to change. 

In order to run a successful business, it is imperative that merchants are up-to-date with the latest consumer trends and technological innovations. The move towards digital initiatives allows shoppers to make purchases in a safer manner while not sacrificing the quality of the customer experience and checkout process. 

Merchant Broker is here to support business owners with the latest payment processing solutions. As a global leader in brokering merchant accounts and the ultimate resource for payment card acceptance, Merchant Broker is ready to work with clients in order to achieve higher profit margins and take their businesses to the next level. 
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