In his book All Marketers are Liars, marketing expert Seth Godin famously said “Perhaps the reason price is all your customers care about is because you haven’t given them anything else to care about.”  Pricing is one of the hot issues facing retailers as we reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Should we lure our customers back with markdowns? Has browsing online while sheltering-in-place made them more likely to comparison shop?

Competing on the basis of price was a hard game to win even before the current crisis.  We tried when big box stores came into our market, we tried when Amazon became our giant competitor.  Eventually most of us realized that our buying power just didn’t match up to theirs when it came to some products. Instead we concentrated on those lines that we could buy at a good price, or smaller makers who don’t do business with the big guys.  We watched for bargains and made sure our average price point didn’t frighten away money-conscious consumers.

Of course we probably all do use price as a lure sometimes.  Everyone loves a bargain, right?  And markdowns are an essential part of the retail cycle, allowing us to clear out slow-moving merchandise in favor of newer, more popular goods.

This doesn’t feel like the right time to use that strategy, though.  As Godin pointed out, we need to give our customers something else to care about as they start shopping again.  Getting a good deal is not likely to be their highest priority.

Offering an enjoyable shopping experience has always been one of the strengths of independent retailers.  What does that look like today?  The same as before: attractive displays, a welcoming environment, and merchandise that the customer finds desirable. Make sure that you have your bread-and-butter items in stock – the ones shoppers depend on you to have.  Bring in new merchandise, even if you need to buy in less depth than you would normally do.  Ask your sales reps for ideas. Ask your vendors for extended terms if that will help you keep buying.  Ask your staff for suggestions about products customers are asking for.

Today there is a new priority for consumers: having a safe shopping experience. Let them know what you are doing to protect your them,  and your staff, from exposure to the virus. This information should be on your website, in your social media, and reiterated whenever you send out a customer email.  Let mask-wearing, hand sanitizer and other precautions become a part of the friendly way you welcome shoppers into your store.  Because avoiding being a victim of COVID-19, or helping to spread the disease, is something that we can be sure our customers care about more than price.

Happy Retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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