Directors’ Club Roundtable: Leadership & Strategy during COVID-19

4 Questions We Asked Retail Leaders

Wunderkind, soon to be Wunderkind, hosted a closed-door Directors’ Club Roundtable recently that was led in conversation by Nicola Thompson, the COO of In the roundtable, Nicola facilitated discussions between attendees that touched on effective leadership strategies and changing marketing initiatives during COVID-19. Afterwards, she compiled the top takeaways pulled directly from questions asked by current retail executives. Check them out below. 


How are we able to motivate people around a common objective while working remote?

  • Be flexible. Ask your employees how they are best able to work from home. Allow them the appropriate concessions to get their work done remotely and understand that their schedules may change slightly during this time.
  • Unite stakeholders. Make sure to bring in all relevant stakeholders to unite around the key goals for new initiatives. Included in these new initiatives should be a shift to digital as spending habits shift more heavily to online spaces.
  • Be human. It’s important to acknowledge that things change. If possible, welcome back those who may have had a change of circumstance into a new role with your org. Or simply offer help to those who need it most right now.
  • Over-communicate! Regular updates on job security, health of the business, division updates, fortnightly all hands, daily check ins, transparent communication, and more are pivotal to helping foster good mental health among employees.
  • Empathy is key. Use empathy as a guiding star in your leadership tactics during this time. Many people are experiencing higher amounts of stress that can be heightened by work. Be empathetic in how you communicate with them.
  • Biggest challenge: balancing short term business needs with strategic planning


How do we expand operations of the business that are now running more efficiently?

  • Be agile. Internal politics can often add red tape that makes it hard to get certain initiatives out the door. Avoid this trap by executing quickly on decisions that are focused on benefits to the business.
  • Be customer focused. Think how behaviour has shifted from before COVID-19 until now and follow those trends. We’re in a new normal, so what customers are shopping for now is likely what they’ll be looking to purchase for months or years to come.
  • Capture the current culture. Make sure all internal and external initiatives are driven by our current culture. Develop campaigns with a sense of focus around how prospects and customers will respond to messaging and branding during this time.
  • Manage customer expectations. Customers will only get annoyed if they are left in the dark with your brand. Keep them updated on things like out-of-stock products and shipping times in order to manage their expectations and keep them happy.
  • Biggest challenge: NPS is currently high as customer expectations have changed, how can you retain this?


How do we plan for a return to “normal?”

  • Plan for a phased opening. The goal isn’t to plan how to open all stores at once, but how to phase your openings to the same degree as what the local area is seeing. With this in mind, you’ll likely need to focus on smaller stores over metropolitan retail hubs.
  • Plan long term. It’s clear that consumers have shifted their in-store shopping habits to online only. This isn’t likely to change. Plan long term for how you can move your in-store experiences online—this includes makeup trials and furniture showrooms.
  • Plan in shorter bursts. Things are changing so rapidly it doesn’t make sense right now to plan ahead for the next 12 months. Instead, reduce your 12- or 6-month plan to quarterly objectives, then finetune from there on a monthly basis.
  • Don’t be speculative. Don’t waste time speculating about how things may change way down the line. Instead, focus on how much you can reduce your commercial and purchase planning time right now.
  • Regional vs centralised. Your organizational setup should adapt to the current situation of people working remotely. You should also be looking for flexible ways to create or find arbitrage opportunities across your profit & loss statement.
  • Biggest challenge: Recruiting has been hard—look for talent in harder hit industries e.g. travel.

Marketing Spend

How do we know when and how to lean into more marketing?

  • Lowering costs. Reduced CPC, CPM, and acquisition costs for many verticals means there is an opportunity to gain new customers and increase their LTV. However, some hard-hit verticals are facing 60-70% inflation due to lack of in-store accessibility.
  • Lack of in-store data. Without in store tracking data it can be harder to justify the spend, look at how sales throughout the crises compared to what they were earlier this year or YoY to better understand how to appropriately spend your marketing dollars.
  • Don’t silo any channels. Don’t take any of your current marketing channels and silo them off from each other. The goal is to have one holistic view of how each channel works together to understand how they impact your bottom line. 
  • Use a CRM, RFM model. Focus on who your engaged customers are from a CRM, RFM model. This means you’ll want to take into account the recency of their purchase, the frequency of their purchases, and the monetary value of their conversions.
  • Biggest challenge: Diverting spend. Many brands switched off ATL in favour of new messaging; focusing on promotions and brand presence.

My final key learning: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Be flexible, be agile and, no matter what, keep going.


Author Profile Image

Nicola Thompson, COO of MADE.COM

Nicola is a senior commercial leader, experienced in creating and executing global market strategies in high growth businesses. She has 20+ years experience of working in multi-market direct to consumer brands across multiple areas: retail, marketing, eCommerce, operations. Nicola is customer and product obsessed, passionate about culture and people. She believes that businesses win by focusing on delivering exceptional, relevant experiences created by smart, motivated teams.