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The new therapy for retail: Trust & Love

01 June 2020

By Francesca Tronca, Account Director, SEC Newgate Milan

In Italy we are a few weeks ahead of the UK for the reopening of non-essential shops.  Two weeks after our lockdown was eased, our retail experience is very different to how it was four months ago. 

According to the national retailer association ConfCommercio, 90% of Italian shops are once again open to customers. Comparatively, the percentage of bars and restaurants open is only 70%, in part due to the impact of the restrictions imposed on the hospitality sector. 

Streets are slowly regaining their share of human presence as the need for “normal” surges across all age and social groups.

But underneath this positive appearance, things are more complicated. Sales have not bumped at reopening, as some predicted and people have not and are not likely to queue up to enter their favourite shop for a new pair of jeans.

Certainly, consumer reluctance is part of the reason for the absence of the anticipated consumer rush. Negative expectations and reduced incomes mixed with a subtle persisting fear are leading to a new cautious approach and “e-commerce for all” may have been affecting shopping habits even before the crisis.

But part of the slow restart in retail can be attributed to the retailers. In the heart of the crisis advertising was operating as usual, while most of the brands relied on ecommerce to overcome the negative conjuncture. Very few retail organizations realized the significance of the Covid-19 crisis and that it would ultimately lead to a new paradigm. Slowly, (Esselunga, one leading supermarket brand strongly rooted in Lombardia, was amongst the first) the storytelling and language of advertising turned to face the new reality which millions of consumers were living in. At the same time, while citizens were taking action themselves to cope with loneliness and separation, brands’ PR and CSR efforts turned directly towards tackling the most severe effects of lockdown.

So now, the need to imbibe brands and goods with values offering far more than simple user experience has become pivotal. Consumers need to trust and love their brands and the simple act of buying something requires a common ground of values and feelings to be established with the brand at the very moment of closing the transaction.

In this new framework of “valuable shopping”, retail surfaces and staff play an even great role as brand ambassadors. Caring for safety, being proactive and sensitive, wishing to help and support customers, in these days of restricted access to shops might make the difference. Along with the difficult task of balancing reducing sales and fixed costs.

Retail has had a tough few years and the crisis has posed new and wider scale challenges for the industry. This is exactly what IKEA, the retail giant, and incidentally a client of ours in Italy, sets out to be their guideline for its reopening strategy: Trust & Love.

I’ll see for myself tomorrow when I enter their shop searching for a new bookshelf.