With 1,401 stores in 47 states, discount retailer Big Lots is progressing through the pandemic by reporting both sales and margin growth.
I recently asked Joice Wirkus, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Big Lots, to brief us on the company’s marketing strategy.
Paul Talbot: Tell me about Big Lots marketing strategy. Have you and your team made any notable changes since the pandemic hit?
Joice Wirkus: Everything we do goes through the prism of our brand pillars; offering extraordinary value and surprising products in a pleasant and easy-to-shop environment, whether in our stores or online.
Prior to COVID-19, we were in the process of launching a new brand campaign, as well as a new look and feel across all of our consumer touchpoints.
As the pandemic unfolded, our focus quickly changed. Above all, we needed to ensure that the health and safety of our associates and customers was at the heart of everything we did.
Next, because we are an essential retailer due to our wide assortment of foods and consumables, we needed to change our marketing focus to match the changing mindset of our customers and direct our marketing investments towards online channels. .
The first customer phase was fear/panic – we adjusted all of our messaging to let our customers know we were open and had the household essentials they were looking for. We have implemented safety measures in our stores such as sneeze guards at checkouts, rigorous cleaning protocols and associated health screenings.
We also introduced curbside pickup and quickly expanded additional service options in-store and online. Our social team doubled down on listening and responding to help customers find what they needed.
The next phase was acclimatization – we started to see customers and our own associates seeking connection within our stores and communities. We started recognizing our Big Lots heroes, the associates who kept our stores open, by featuring them in our social channels highlighting heartfelt stories of extreme examples of customer service.
Talbot: Strategy is largely driven by creating the best possible assumptions about what the future holds, which we all find harder than ever. How do you and your marketing team strategize given this difficulty?
Wirkus: Future planning is more difficult given the uncertainties associated with this pandemic. What we do know is that we need to stay closer than ever to our customers and their mindset. Using data from our partners, our own first-party data, and our CRM and loyalty team, we closely tracked our customers’ actions and adjusted messaging across all channels accordingly.
We remain nimble and flexible with real-time messaging, but balance this with our long-term strategic planning. Our brand’s core values and mission have not disappeared due to the pandemic, but rather have been the concrete fulcrum on which we stand as we pivot.
Talbot: Given the goal of turning offline shoppers into online shoppers, how is this approached at Big Lots?
Wirkus: Turning offline shoppers into online shoppers was essential. We’ve worked closely with our operations and e-commerce teams to increase the number of products available on our website and made rapid feature enhancements to make shopping as easy as possible for users.
We actually added thousands of new products to our online store in just ten days and implemented curbside pickup at all stores in two days at the onset of the crisis. To support these efforts, we have increased messaging focused on curbside delivery and pickup.
Talbot: Are there any other ideas you would like to share?
Wirkus: We know – and have known – that collaboration and flexibility are what will make us successful, and we are continuing to do so as we head into the return phase of the virus.
We have found that having a strong strategy, anchored in the brand purpose and brought to life by our values, pre-pandemic has put us in a strong position to maintain a positive perception with our customers during the crisis. .