The key areas franchises should focus on when creating a post-pandemic plan include data, customer convenience, and local search.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, franchises had to adapt extremely quickly, not only to stay inline with ever-changing government regulations, but also to keep up with the shifting behaviour of consumers. Now, well over a year into the pandemic, these changes have solidified, and franchises have adopted new ways of meeting the needs of their customers, primarily through digital solutions.
On day two of Creating a Post-Pandemic Digital Growth Plan – a webinar series co-hosted by Reshift Media and the Canadian Franchise Association – the question of what happens after the pandemic was explored, especially now that the changes implemented throughout the pandemic will, for the most part, stick around. Steve Buors, CEO and Co-Founder of Reshift Media, discussed key areas to focus on when creating a post-pandemic plan.
It’s All About Data
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to understand your consumers, and data can help. Buors explained, “The real power comes from the data you already have and drawing conclusions on your own customer audience.” You can find internal data through:
- Sales (online and/or offline)
- Website traffic
- Google searches
- Social media data & customer feedback
Buors recommended comparing the most recent couple of months of your data against pre-COVID findings and adapting accordingly. The goal is to see what has changed and what you can expect going forward.
The type of data collected is also important. First-party data, which is data you collect directly from your audience/customers, is key. Not only does first-party data provide a competitive advantage, but your company can ensure the data collected (whether it be from a loyalty program, offer, eCommerce, etc.) is free of third-party privacy filters that could impact results. Although collecting third-party data is also important, using it in conjunction with first-party data can be a winning combination. Third-party data is also increasingly difficult to obtain thanks to new privacy regulations, such as Apple’s iOS 14 update, which allows users to opt out of having their website activity tracked.
Even more important than collecting data is using it, as Buors said, “Don’t just gather data to gather it.” Creating a plan once you have collected your data, such as creating personalized experiences, developing new products, or changing your company’s marketing efforts, are great ways to adapt to your customers’ needs and make a better buying experience.
Only gather the information you need – the more you ask for, the less you will receive.
Put Customer Convenience First
Mobile use is higher than it has ever been. Between 2019 and 2020, eMarketer reported a major jump in time spent on a mobile device per day, totalling just over four hours a day in 2020, with the number expected to increase each year.
Consumers demand a great experience on their mobile device, which requires franchise companies to optimize their website for mobile use. This includes sizing content differently to fit smaller screens, and paying attention to factors like how long it takes for content to load on a phone. With more consumers now willing to switch companies in order to obtain what they are looking for, it is vital that businesses pay attention to mobile considerations, such as by displaying all available products online that can be easily purchased using a mobile device.
Franchises should also consider developing an app. Apps provide several opportunities for companies, such as the ability to add eCommerce options, and can offer a positive mobile experience (when designed correctly) that can increase retention and conversion. Most people are already spending more time on a mobile app (4hrs/day in 2021) compared to a desktop browser, as reported by eMarketer. However, Buors noted that an app needs to add value to the customer that they wouldn’t get otherwise. Creating an app with little additional utility from your website will not benefit you as a company or the consumer whatsoever.
If a franchise sells any product, eCommerce is essential. However, ensuring a positive buying experience for customers requires many considerations, such as making sure all products are available for online purchase, providing various options to receive a purchased item (delivery, click-and-collect, curbside), and allowing customers to perform easy transactions on their mobile device.
Changes to the in-store experience, once a greater capacity permits, should also be considered. Euromonitor Interactional did a study that found that the top two in-store shopping features consumers prefer are:
- Selecting items and being able to immediately walk out of the store with the purchase complete.
- Being able to scan an item while shopping and make the payment on a mobile phone.
Incorporating a mobile device within in-person shopping can offer a range of possibilities, and Buors recommended that franchises ask the question, “Where can we incorporate technology into our operation in a way that enhances that [in-store] experience?” Whether it’s virtual fitting rooms, easy self-checkouts, or interactive displays, look for ways you can integrate technology to benefit your customers.
View the pandemic as an opportunity to evaluate what has worked and what hasn’t, in addition to recognizing how consumer behaviours and needs have changed.
Buors said, “I’m the first one to say that COVID has been an absolutely rough time around the board, but if we look at the positives here, we as business people had to be incredibly agile… and as a franchise community, we’ve had to be really quite creative in our approach. Our customers have [also] had to be quite creative in terms of learning new technologies and learning how to buy differently.” These changes to consumer buying behaviour brought many learning opportunities that can be extremely beneficial going forward, post-pandemic.
Focus on Local Search
Buying local has become increasingly important to consumers, as 57% of buyers will specifically seek out a local business to support, and 34% reported doing this more frequently than they did before the pandemic, reports Shopify.
What does a buyer do when they want to support a local business? A local Google search! Buors said that almost half of all searches done on Google are local in some nature, and this can often lead to greater rates of in-store visiting and/or purchasing. Google reports that 18% of local searches lead to a purchase within a day, compared to 7% for non-local searches. This means when someone includes “near me” or their city name within their search, the rate of purchasing significantly rises.
Create Local Pages on the Franchise Brand’s Website
For Google to properly index local searches, it is important for your company to have separate webpages for each franchise location.
The graphic above is an example of a sub-folder structure, which allows each location to nestle into the main website. Rather than listing all of your locations on one page or creating separate websites for each location that lists the company’s name + the city within the URL (which can result in each website being independently indexed in Google’s algorithm and reduces search authority from the main company website), this sub-folder structure allows your pages to work together because Google recognizes it as part of the same company, thus creating greater search authority.
Use Local Digital Marketing
Creating location-specific marketing is extremely important for franchise locations. For example, taking a standard Facebook or Google approach to advertising, such as, “Get $ [discount] off in [city]”, can apply to various franchisee locations, which makes the experience more personalized. Buors explained, “As soon as you start to localize in this fashion, you can now have a click-through to a landing page specific to that location, so it can be a local microsite, local landing page, and local information.” When done properly, this can provide 5-10 times better results.
Build Your Post-Pandemic Plan
When creating a post-pandemic plan, the key factors include:
- Data: review what’s existing, plan on how to improve first-party data and identify how you will use this data to gain an advantage over competitors.
- Customer convenience: Review your mobile website to ensure efficiency; review eCommerce opportunities; consider the new processes in place for serving customers (click-and-collect, delivery, curbside, etc.); and consider ways to incorporate technology in-store.
- Marketing: Evaluate what has worked and what hasn’t during the pandemic; ensure franchise locations are properly set up to maximize local searches; maximize local advertising.
Although these suggestions cover more of the digital marketing side of a post-pandemic plan, it is still important to consider how the pandemic has altered your overall strategy and what your business can do to make the customer buying experience better, post-pandemic.