Shopper Psychology, Consumer Behavior, & Retail Nerdiness

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Swedish retailer, IKEA, has provided many lessons in creative customer engagement and inspiration over the years, and 2020 is no exception. At a time when so many people are seeking ideas for keeping themselves or their families entertained while sheltering in place, IKEA hasn't let their customers down. In April, they released the recipe for their world-famous Swedish meatballs, and this month, they are sharing how-tos for building six different types of forts, using items you can find at home and, of course, in IKEA's online catalog.

This is a fantastic example of understanding customers' changing needs and providing ideas and solutions that are timely, useful, and fun. It's also an example of customer insight that can be derived from observation and empathy, rather than expensive research projects — people stuck at home for weeks need ideas for keeping busy and having fun.

To retailers and brands of all sizes, I hope it provides inspiration to identify opportunities to creatively engage your customers and deliver meaningful value in challenging times.

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

I recently had an excellent chat with the team at Appear Here, the world's leading marketplace for retail space. We discussed retail disruption in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and what retailers can do to maintain, and even strengthen, engagement with their customers.

You can find the entire conversation at Appear Here's blog, but here is a sample:

"If not pushing their products, how can brands maintain authentic conversations with their customers?

I think it’s incredibly important to find the best ways to maintain contact with their customers - even when you’re closed. The key to authenticity is bringing value to your customers even when they’re not spending money. It’s like a relationship, if you do something nice to contribute to the relationship that you’re not gaining anything immediate from, that says a lot about that brand and it creates a very positive association with them. How you can add value varies depending on your customer, whether it’s providing emotional support and soothing anxieties or providing ideas and solutions."

If you want to check out the rest of our conversation, head over to Appear Here.

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Agility, creativity, and community engagement are three important advantages small retailers can lean into during challenging times. All three are on display at local Chicago eatery, Wood, which transformed its outdoor dining area into a pop-up garden shop while dine-in service is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. I had the opportunity to talk with Wood co-owner, Gary Zickel, to understand how the idea came about, the purpose it serves for both Wood and the local community, and what advice he has for other small retailers in difficult times.

According to Gary, the Illinois shelter-in-place order, which went into effect in mid-March, was "devastating" for Wood, which has been a popular dining spot in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood since its opening in 2012. "Our business was 99% dine-in and one-percent carry-out." He said, "So we had to either close or try to keep people employed by keeping the doors open and getting creative."

The team at Wood adapted the menu to be more take-out friendly. However, because Wood wasn't well-known for delivery or carry-out service, Gary knew they would have to do something unique to stand out. That's when Gary reached out to Kehoe Designs, a full-service event design and decor company, to discuss the possibility of a partnership. "We've worked with them many, many times, and they're always a class act," said Gary. "I also knew that they were doing pop-up markets in other parts of the city, so it made sense to talk to them."

On a warm, sunny Friday in May, Green Market Garden opened for business in Wood's 600 square-foot patio space, offering indoor and outdoor plants, shrubs, and even small trees. Gary's main objective for the endeavor was to draw traffic to Wood and grow awareness of their take-out and delivery menu, which face-masked staffers hand out to curious passers-by and shoppers. When asked how the neighborhood has responded, Gary reported, "It's been a big hit! People are just so excited about it." The outdoor market has attracted a steady stream of shoppers (socially distancing, of course), while Wood has seen an increase in daily deliveries and has now launched lunch and Sunday brunch menus, as well.

When I asked Gary what he thought led to the success of the market, he responded with the kind of insight and empathy that small retailers develop by being engaged with their communities and on the front lines of their businesses every day, ""Well because everybody's been stuck at home now for weeks, and people are just starving for a breath of fresh air. They want a reason to get outside, and they want something positive and comforting to bring into their home or office. They want to surround themselves with things that make them happy."

As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Gary if he had any advice for other small retailers, grappling with the new realities of life with coronavirus. "Just because your business does one thing doesn't mean it's the only thing you can do." He replied, "Brainstorm, get creative, and don't be afraid to try something new. You want to stay within your core competencies, but you can partner with others to help you - maybe a vendor or business partner. Everyone is looking for solutions right now, so it's a good time to reach out for ideas and solutions. And it may even turn into a longer-term partnership."

Green Market Garden at Wood (3335 N Halsted Street) will be open through the end of May — perhaps longer if Chicago's stay-at-home order is not lifted at that time.