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Beyond whitepapers and webinars: What retailers really want from tech partners

I don’t know about you, but I still haven’t attended any webinars or downloaded any whitepapers that will save a retail business.

Yet, it seems to be the go-to response for many retail partners, suppliers and vendors at this time. And sure, there are no doubt valuable lessons to be gleaned from most of them. It’s just not what most retailers want right now.

I spoke anonymously with a few senior retail leaders to understand how technology partners can help retailers. So, without further ado, let’s go all Mel Gibson and unlock what retailers really want… 

Postpone or alter payments

To be attempted only if you have your own gas mask on first. Cashflow is the retail sleep killer and the solution to most problems right now.

If you are in a more fortunate position than your retail partners – say telecommunications or SAAS products – consider delaying payments for upcoming invoices until there is more certainty around the situation (i.e. when physical stores reopen).

In saying that, don’t give away everything for free. Communicate and retain the value because when we come out the other side, you don’t want price degradation.

“Vendors can best help through … payment terms and reduced rates. Whilst this sounds very one dimensional, it does help tremendously.”

We’ve seen Telstra announce that they will not enforce late fees or disconnections in April. We’ve also seen Google, Facebook, eBay and Shopify come to the party with generous grants. If you can ease the cashflow nightmare, it will be the best way to help right now. And it will pay dividends on the other side.

Upgrade them 

This one is especially for SAAS platforms where retailers are using components or tiered levels of your product.

Use this time to open up the engine for your retailers. Allow them to use the full power of your solution to navigate their way out. It is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the entire product suite of what is available and can potentially lead to an addiction that will pay off once the money flows back in.

For example, Canva has unlocked their entire content library for Pro users, Salesforce is offering CRM and Tableau for small business clients, and Microsoft is giving free access to Teams. What can you open up? 

Develop end-to-end solutions

Retail has had to pivot drastically in the last month. Businesses have moved faster than they ever have before. Even with this movement, there are plenty more ideas sitting on the table.

They are still on the table because we’re in a capacity shortage, not an idea shortage. There’s simply not enough headspace and money to get everything done. However, time is still critical.

“Time to market is what helps us mitigate cash flow issues. Having a ‘minimum lovable product’ in market within two weeks is worth so much more than a perfect product in two months.”

If you have a solution that you know is of interest to a retailer, go the extra mile. Do a business case. Engage other suppliers. Design the end-to-end solution. Implement it. Support it.

The less headspace you require from a retailer, the higher the chance of getting to market quickly. Don’t sell in another idea that creates more work.

Upskill their team

Assume training and conference budgets are wiped out. It is also likely that teams have shrunk and people are doing tasks that they usually wouldn’t be doing. If you are in the position to upskill a retail team, offer it.

Important note: try to keep it personalised – no white papers or webinars (see above). The beauty of this approach is that you create value not only for today but for the future. 

“When retailers do ramp up again, the focus will likely be on cutting costs and figuring out how to run their businesses with less resources, smaller marketing budgets, and less tech investment.”

Create value with what retailers have. We loved JC Decaux’s recent partnership with ADMA to offer the Mark Ritson WFH Marketing Masterclass to their advertising partners. Additionally, Google For Small Business is a fantastic portal to help teams upskill and get through this time. 

Connect the retail community

No one knows what it’s like to be a retailer right now other than retailers themselves. We’ve seen Kate Morris lead the charge with her retailers Slack group.

But if you are a supplier with a network of retail partners, think about how you can play the facilitator role to support each other. Can you help them share insights amongst themselves? Can you connect non-competing retailers who are looking to solve the same problem? Can you help plug skill gaps?

It doesn’t have to be a massive initiative. Check out e-commerce SMS provider, Postscripts, DTC eCommerce job board and the Emarsys Commerce Insights dashboard as great community examples. 

You may have noticed a pattern… most of these tips are for those partners with existing relationships with retailers. So, what about new partnerships? It’s much trickier, unfortunately. 

Most retailers simply don’t have the capacity to explore a wide range of new partnerships right now. They are focused on keeping the lights on.

As one retailer told me, “my LinkedIn mailbox has been smashed in the last four weeks with more cold calls than ever before”.

This approach isn’t productive for either party. For those looking to develop new solutions, use the same principles as above but make sure they solve a particular problem, require minimal headspace and leverage other retailers as referrals. Solutions around new focus areas such as pureplay e-commerce, work from home, mental health, communications and cybersecurity will get more attention.

As a tech partner, there’s lots of giving right now. Consider it an investment.

As one retailer said, “work together to define the new normal. Even after stores reopen, retail will not be the same for a long time, if ever. The vendors who partner with their clients, provide leniency and flexibility, revisit their cost structure and fees, and view the partnership as a long-term relationship vs. short-term transaction will be successful in the long run.”

Go forth and be of service. 

Nathan Bush is the founder of e-commerce consultancy, 12HIGH, and is host of the Add To Cart podcast. He was previously group digital manager at Super Retail Group and was placed in the Top 50 People in E-commerce four years in a row.

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