When the pandemic began, retailers were among the hardest hit. Those that remained open were the lucky ones, but they scrambled to adjust to fast changing rules and dynamics and find ways to communicate those changes to customers, employees, and vendors. Retailers urgently needed to distribute print and programmatic material, and many looked to FedEx Office for help.
We interviewed Jason Radford, National Account Manager for FedEx Office, to understand how they helped retailers during this crisis, and how they enable them to adapt for the future.
"FedEx Office is more than a place to make copies. Retailers who are in a jam can turn to FedEx Office as a convenient, fast, and consistent source for printed materials, whether for a quick store display, flyers, buckslips, or brochures. In recent years, FedEx Office has become a trusted source for in-store graphics and promotional campaigns too. In addition, FedEx Office has helped big box retailers innovate and test new substrates and messaging with short run signage to evaluate them in a select number of stores before rolling out new concepts to all locations," said Radford.
This expertise was what retailers needed when the pandemic began. After facing varying local and state-regulations, stores had to manage changing hours of operation, customer capacity limits, and mask or face covering requirements. The expertise is also what retailers can rely on as their future business challenges arise.
Looking to survive, many retailers altered their business models, and shifted to curbside pickup or delivery. The stores that did stay open urgently needed new signage, such as social distancing markers or instructions, directional aisle arrows and informational posters about cleaning protocols, to help customers feel safer as they navigated the stores.
Different phases, different printing needs
"Retailers needed different types of printed materials at different points of the pandemic," Radford said.
In the beginning, when many retail stores were required to reduce or eliminate in-store shopping or dining, many turned to offering curbside pickup; often for the first time. Directional signage and graphics were critical in assisting customers navigate parking lots to find pickup locations. Although stores in the same chain may have similar layouts and graphics inside, their parking lots can be very different. One might have curbside pickup in designated spots in front of the store; another might have customers pickup on the side or rear of the store. Directional signage may help reduce confusion and frustration during a difficult time and improve the customer experience, making it more likely customers would use curbside pickup again.
Once storefronts were able to reopen in smaller capacities, signage needs pivoted to communicate with customers at entry and exit points inside the store. These businesses used: signs and surface graphics to promote social distancing, one-way directional graphics in aisles, signs to separate clean and non-sanitized shopping carts, floor graphics denoting a six-foot distance, and graphics on plastic dividers near the cashier reminding customers to use hand sanitizer.
Many essential businesses reserved certain hours for more vulnerable populations of customers, but those hours varied by location, so stores used signs to provide that information.
Employee packets filled with communications on the latest guidelines on staying safe in the back office and while assisting customers were an important element to keeping front line team members informed.
Even though the rules changed quickly and frequently, these businesses needed to provide consistent messages to their customers and employees, and printed materials helped them accomplish that. "Print is very personal and can be customized to the audience to meet their needs," Radford explained.
Retailers need an agile, rapid response plan for change
With circumstances changing rapidly, retailers' responses needed to be just as fast. In-store graphics and merchandising kits can have a four to five week planning cycle, to delivery and display, Radford shared. "But retailers had only a few days to react in order to get critical signs for their stores." The FedEx Office printing process was decidedly faster. "Once creative was completed, using our network of facilities allowed us to produce and deliver consistently within three to four days — sometimes in as little as 24 hours."
With over 2,100 locations nationwide, FedEx Office can leverage their footprint to print and deliver orders locally. "With some of the larger retailers, we use closed-door production centers in 15 states. They all operate consistent equipment and utilize the same color management technology. So our customers are getting consistency through our print network, but we're able to print closer to the customer’s point of need, which saves time and can cut costs."
Trustworthy advisor in crisis and beyond
During the pandemic, having a reliable vendor to deliver became increasingly important. FedEx Office suggested options that helped retailers cut through the noise and chaos, offering products like ready-made packages of signage for social distancing.
"Retailers could choose from an assortment of templates, choose a color and size, and place an order quickly," Radford said. With these packages, retailers quickly made decisions and didn’t have to create, source, or find someone to print it. It was ready-made, allowing retailers to pick a package and have it arrive in the stores a few days later.
As retailers open back up to full capacity, and they prepare to communicate new messages, retailers can rely on FedEx Office to solve problems and engineer solutions in good times and bad.