Allbirds, the US shoe company, has had to rapidly adapt its approach in China as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and is looking to continue down this route post-lockdown; a key learning is how customers’ focus is changing as a result of their experiences.

A year ago this month, Allbirds, a start-up whose footwear has taken off among eco-conscious consumers on the US west coast, opened its first store in China and was doing well until COVID-19 happened.

Like all brands, Allbirds knew it had to adapt – and fast, Erick Haskell, the president of international at Allbirds explained to Alizila, the Alibaba group news hub.

The crisis struck in earnest as the brand was building momentum in the market, Haskell, said, just as Chinese New Year approached. The company has four stores in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou, and as government regulations restricting people’s movements kicked in, consumer traffic at the malls “virtually went to zero”, he said.

“Our store employees pivoted from dealing with consumers directly in the retail space to supporting e-commerce fulfillment, most of which came from Tmall.”

The company deployed technology to open up new consumer opportunities and ways to connect with customers. Lots of questions about the products were coming in via live chat, so the brand responded by connecting consumers with store staff, allowing them to see what staff were wearing with Allbirds shoes, for example, along with the different styles and colours.

“Pre-Covid-19, that may not have been an option because there would have been too many consumers in our stores,” Haskell said.

But now the company is trying to work out how to use this feature when the stores’ footfall picks up again.

A key learning from the crisis, Haskell said is to listen to how the customer’s focus is changing as a result of their experiences.

“We’re starting to see that consumers are more focused on their health, wellbeing and fitness,” Haskell said. “China had been trending in that direction already, but this has made people so conscious about the importance of things like our families and health.”

The more you can be in touch with your customer, he added, the “more flexible and nimble you can be if tides shift”, he added.

Meanwhile, the hard reality of the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic on footwear/apparel brands is underlined by adidas, which has announced a 93% fall in profits in Q1, 2020, as sales plunged 19%, Reuters reports. The company has warned of even worse second-quarter revenue figures, and a possible fall in sales of 40%. Q1 profits for the German sportswear brand were €65 million, as opposed to the €263 million analysts had expected.

Sourced from Alizila, Reuters