Pivoting as Business Strategy: The Pandemic Edition

It’s a safe bet Charles Darwin wasn’t thinking about the implications of a global pandemic on the retail industry when writing his seminal work, The Origin of Species. And yet, if retail companies have learned anything at all during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, it’s this: When it comes to keeping the doors open during the six-foot-apart economy, adapt or die.

The good news – in a year that feels as though there’s very little of it (thank you, murder hornets!) – is that Fortune 500 companies and small, local retailers alike seem to be doing their best to survive, and in some cases thrive, during this tumultuous time. And they are doing it by reducing high-touch buying, increasing sanitation, adding more signage, focusing on supply chain efficiency, and a slew of other activities that improve customer experience and keep in-store shoppers safe. You can read more about Retail Industry trends and consumer habits in our blog post, Rising to the Occasion: New Normals for Retail.

Here are a few notable examples of what leading retailers are doing in the time of COVID-19:

  • Kroger

We live in a digital world. Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to convince some (read: most) food retailers to embrace omnichannel. With shelter-in-place mandates resulting in Americans cooking at home more, the largest national food retailer, Kroger looked at high-tech ways to keep up with consumer demand. For starters, Kroger partnered with British robotics company, Ocado, to build cutting-edge fulfillment facilities. They also beefed up their doorstep deliveries and expanded their online inventory, hired more e-commerce staff, and made it increasingly convenient to pick up groceries by adding additional time slots. The payoff was an astounding 92% jump in online grocery sales during its fiscal first quarter alone, with revenue rising to $41.55 billion–a $4.55 billion jump from just a year prior.

  • Walmart

Walmart consistently raises the bar for both online and in-store innovation. When the coronavirus pandemic first kicked off, so did Walmart’s immediately rolling out operational best practices to make shopping in person easier, cleaner, and safer. Even more impressive is how they never once abandoned their long-term strategic imperatives, not allowing the pandemic to steal their attention or resources from those activities. This includes partnerships with ThredUp, an online reseller, and Shopify. The latter will support the expansion of the third-party Walmart Marketplace, an eCommerce platform for independent sellers. And perhaps of greatest significance, there’s the launch of Walmart+, their version of Amazon Prime that offers discounts, product deals, same-day delivery of groceries, self-checkout Scan & Go service, and other member perks for $98/year.

  • Retail Manufacturing

PPE shortages have been a massive stress factor for medical institutions and staff alike. Enter, retail manufacturing. Companies like Apple, The Gap, Under Armor, New Balance, and a slew of other retail brands have devoted some manufacturing capabilities to making face masks, medical gowns, and other personal protection equipment, much of which is being donated to frontline medical workers. New Balance even consulted with Boston medical institutions and labs to develop a prototype they quickly put into production. And this isn’t exclusive to big brand names; distilleries are now making hand sanitizer and manufacturers from other industries are making ventilators to make up for drastic shortages around the world. Aside from helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, these retailers are also boosting their brand reputation with consumers.

  • Amazon

Though it launched locally in Seattle pre-COVID-19, Amazon Go Grocery offers a streamlined retail experience à la checkout-free shopping. Think: Shop, grab, go. Not only does this model minimize time spent food shopping, it also helps reduce the spread of viruses by reducing in-store interactions. And while it may seem like something out of a Sci-Fi flick, retailers are looking at this significant change to the consumer experience as a long-term model.

The current public health crisis is worrisome for just about everyone around the world. If there is any upside, it is witnessing businesses like the above U.S. retailers get creative, innovative, and resilient as they navigate this new normal and steel themselves for the next normal. HighPoint is partnering with clients on all of these fronts.


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