Retailers focus on customers’ health and wellness

How 1-800-Flowers, Neighborhood Goods, Boots UK and others are helping consumers manage

Although many stay-at-home orders implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 are easing, Americans’ lives won’t return to anything resembling pre-pandemic times for a while. Summer programs and vacations are canceled. Parents continue to juggle jobs and kids. And about one-third of those responding to a survey by retail consulting firm WSL said they’re worried about layoffs and paying their bills.

Many Americans felt isolated even before the pandemic. In 2017, about 40 percent of Americans said they sometimes or always felt their relationships were not meaningful, while 20 percent said they felt lonely or socially isolated, according to research from the Health Resources and Services Administration. It isn’t a frivolous concern; loneliness and isolation can be as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, the HRSA reported.

Some retailers are trying to help their customers manage the tensions reverberating across society through virtual connections, encouragement and, in some cases, safety.

Develop connections

To address the disconnectedness many people feel, 1-800 launched Connection Communities, an online peer-to-peer support portal, supported by social media app Wisdo. The goal is to deepen “relationships with customers as their leading resource for expression, connection and celebration,” says Tom Hartnett, president of 1-800

1-800-Flowers’ Connection Communities offer resources and guidance, as well as forums where members can connect with others.

The eight Connection Communities — topics include caregiving, loneliness and parenting — offer resources and guidance, as well as forums through which members can connect with others, including those with similar experiences. Access is complimentary for six months.

As of early June, the eight communities had garnered many positive engagements, Hartnett says; 1-800-Flowers will continue to evaluate feedback and tweak topics so they remain relevant.

Focus on the positive

Founded several years ago, Neighborhood Goods is a department store with locations in Texas and New York, as well as an ecommerce presence. It strives to be a community-builder, offering opportunities for people to come together and shop, eat, discover and learn.

After closing stores in mid-March, Neighborhood Goods launched Only Good Things, an ongoing positive news campaign on its blog and social media channels. Each day, the site includes memes and stories on positive initiatives like Better Block, which is introducing micro-parks in multiple cities. “Our thinking was, ‘There’s a lot of negative news,” says founder and CEO Matt Alexander. “Let’s try to find some positive news.’”

Not all its efforts are virtual. Shortly after its physical locations reopen, Neighborhood Goods will launch The Commons, space for entrepreneurs, chefs, artists and others to offer their goods and services in return for a small percentage of sales. “The hope is that this is more of a social good” than a profit maker, Alexander says. “It’s really about doing something positive.” These events will likely run for several months.

In the meantime, the digital messages on Only Good Things have enjoyed an “unbelievable” reception, and increased engagement and sharing. Alexander credits the success to the focus on positive news. Indeed, Neighborhood Goods sees no reason to end the campaign: “Everyone needs a little positivity,” he says.

Lift spirits

Over the past few months, fast-casual chain Chipotle Mexican Grill has been offering virtual lunchtime events called Chipotle Together. They’ve featured performances by country singer Luke Bryan and rock band Portugal. The Man. Colton Underwood of The Bachelor delivered a Chipotle trivia presentation and Rob Gronkowski, tight end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hosted a workout.

“Our fans were so appreciative of our efforts to inspire social connections as they began to spend more time at home.”

Tressie Lieberman, Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle was one of the first brands to initiate live performances, says Tressie Lieberman, vice president of digital and off-premise with the chain. The fast action helped Chipotle “underscore our leadership position in the agile marketing space amid COVID-19,” she says.

The sessions also boosted awareness of Chipotle’s delivery capabilities, helping to drive an 80 percent bump in digital sales in the first quarter of 2020. “Our fans were so appreciative of our efforts to inspire social connections as they began to spend more time at home,” Lieberman says.

Address concerns

Inquiries from victims of domestic abuse jumped 47 percent during the early months of the lockdown, says Hestia, a U.K. organization that provides support for adults and children in crisis. To help address that issue, Boots Pharmacies announced in May that it was making its consultation rooms into safe spaces. Within these rooms, victims of domestic abuse can access a national abuse hotline and find information on a free mobile app, Bright Sky, which provides support and information for those in abusive relationships.

While retailers’ actions to support customers’ mental health vary, successful efforts share several attributes. Retailers that engage before acting can better convey the messages most likely to resonate with customers. Savvy retailers also identify existing products or services that meet consumers’ needs.

Along with customers, retailers stand to gain from their efforts. One goal of the Community Connections launched by 1-800-Flowers is to move beyond individual transactions and build meaningful engagements by helping customers “express themselves, connect with each other and celebrate moments big and small,” Hartnett says.

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