How Retailers Can Adapt to “New Normal” & Changes in Consumer Habits

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Across the nation, states are beginning—or approaching—the reopening of stores and restaurants in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. FinTech executive Monica Eaton-Cardone urges retailers to approach the “new normal” with a mix of clarity, creativity, and caution.

There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of risk, and—particularly in eCommerce—a lot of opportunity. Just remember to be clear, be creative, and be careful," Eaton-Cardone says

As of the third week of May, 37 states were in the process of reopening stores, restaurants, and other public venues that had since been ordered closed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Another 10 states were set to reopen on a regional basis, one had announced plans to reopen soon, and two—Illinois and Michigan—were still shut down.(1) “It’s important to remember,” says Monica Eaton-Cardone, an entrepreneur and IT executive specializing in risk management and fraud prevention, “that these reopened businesses face a retail environment much altered from the one that existed in mid-March, when the lockdown began.”

Since the beginning of May, for example, four major U.S. retailers—JC Penney, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, and Stage Store—have filed for bankruptcy.(2) While these firms’ financial difficulties predated the coronavirus crisis, notes Eaton-Cardone, they were certainly exacerbated by weeks of lost instore sales, as was the entire retail sector. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the country’s retail sales during April 2020 were down 16.4% seasonally adjusted from March, and 21.6% unadjusted year over year.(3)

Meanwhile, consumers in recently reopened states seem to be in no hurry to return to their pre-crisis levels of buying activity. In New Hampshire—where the governor has imposed tight safety restrictions—malls were mostly empty and main streets far from bustling as the lockdown lifted. Shopkeepers acknowledge that shopping will not be the same experience it once was.(4) Part of the difference lies in the fact that shopping habits themselves have changed significantly. Online grocery sales, for example, are expected to grow 40% in 2020, driven by new activity patterns from homebound consumers.(5)

In other words, notes Eaton-Cardone, the lockdown has created opportunities as well as difficulties. One food-by-subscription service has seen demand so far exceed supply that prospective new subscribers are placed on a waiting list.(6) In some cities, restaurants have pivoted not to takeout, but to foodstuffs and supplies sales, becoming in effect contactless grocery stores open one day a week to fulfill online orders.(7)

In her own area of expertise, fraud prevention, and security, Eaton-Cardone has seen consumer behavior changes as well. “New risks are coming into existence,” Eaton-Cardone says. For instance, she notes that credit-card chargebacks based on service complaints, typically made by consumers new to ecommerce and impatient with coronavirus-crisis-related delivery delays, have come to outnumber fraudulent chargebacks, which normally account for some 80% of all chargeback volume.

To navigate this new and rapidly changing landscape, Eaton-Cardone urges retailers to focus on:

  • Clarity: Understand what is being offered by the company, what the rules are, and communicate that clearly to customers
  • Creativity: Some of today’s most successful merchants are doing things that wouldn’t have occurred to them to do before
  • Caution: This is a tight-margin business, now more than ever—be sure to minimize unnecessary risk

“It’s a different world from the one we lived in just a few months ago,” Eaton-Cardone says. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of risk, and—particularly in eCommerce—a lot of opportunity. Just remember to be clear, be creative, and be careful.”

About Monica Eaton-Cardone:
As an acclaimed entrepreneur, speaker, and author, Monica Eaton-Cardone is widely recognized as a thought leader in the FinTech industry and a champion of women in technology. She established her entrepreneurial credentials upon selling her first business at the age of 19. When a subsequent eCommerce venture was plagued by revenue-leeching chargebacks and fraud, Eaton-Cardone rose to the challenge by developing a robust solution that combined human insight and Agile technology. Today, her innovations are used by thousands of companies worldwide, cementing her reputation as one of the payment industry’s foremost experts in risk management, chargeback mitigation, and fraud prevention. Monica Eaton-Cardone is honored to be the recipient of various industry awards. Her own expertise, as well as the services provided by her companies, have been recognized as outstanding by her peers and other industry leaders. For more information, visit http://www.monicaec.com.

1. Mervosh, Sarah, et al. “See Which States Are Reopening and Which Are Still Shut Down.” The New York Times, 25 Apr. 2020, nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-map-coronavirus.html.
2. Isidore, Chris. “JCPenney Will Close Nearly 30% of Its Stores as Part of Its Bankruptcy Plan.” CNN, 18 May 2020, cnn.com/2020/05/18/business/jcpenney-store-closings/index.html.
3. Kramer, Matthew. “NRF: Retail Sales Drop During April.” HomeWorld Business, 15 May 2020, homeworldbusiness.com/nrf-retail-sales-drop-during-april/.
4. Martin, Naomi, and Gal Tziperman Lotan. “New Hampshire Takes the next Step in Reopening Businesses, but This New Normal Is a Work in Progress, Boston Globe, 15 May 2020, bostonglobe.com/2020/05/15/metro/nh-is-open-business-its-far-normal/.
5. Redman, Russell. “Online Grocery Sales to Grow 40% in 2020.” Supermarket News, 18 May 2020, supermarketnews.com/online-retail/online-grocery-sales-grow-40-2020.
6. ButcherBox, butcherbox.com
7. Goldfield, Hannah. “The Restaurants Transforming Into Grocery Stores.” The New Yorker, 11 May 2020, newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/18/the-restaurants-transforming-into-grocery-stores.

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