Grégoire Baret is Senior Director, Omnichannel Experience at ALDO Group, based in Montreal.

In this honest and upbeat interview, he outlines what has changed and what hasn’t in multichannel retail of footwear and accessories at ALDO and its sister brands.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

The core of my role is strategy and implementation of solutions that improve the shopping experience: online, mobile, in-store, from channel to channel. This implies to focus first on the people and their needs, on their perception and understanding of our environments, on the right flow to discover and acquire products.

Concretely, it ranges from redefining the try-on experience in a store, redesigning or enhancing our eCommerce websites, redesigning our mobile app, creating suites of digital services to support our associates in their daily operation, or framing the technology approach for connected retail.

How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?

Our model is omnichannel by design. We want to create seamless end-to-end experiences for consumers and associates. Store inventories are at the center of our eCommerce shipping, sales associates have a real time view of their inventory from a dedicated mobile app, buy-online-pickup-in-store is a standard usage for our consumers, as well as showrooming to get a later home delivery…. So you can imagine how this crisis has affected our usual business practice.

To protect the safety of our associates and customers, we took the decision to close our corporate stores in mid-March and a majority of our franchised stores followed as well. Our eComm business is still in operation, and while we are taking all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our associates and customers, we are also doing our best to maximize our opportunity online.

We had to temporarily shift as if we were a digital-only business, driving at high speed a set of operations adjustments, UX enhancements & conversion optimizations. We are also spending significant time on framing the evolution for upcoming weeks, months: adapting our service model, rebalancing priorities, and anticipating an efficient & sustainable recovery strategy.

From a personal standpoint, this turned into an interesting —and consuming— experiment for our family. What is the best way to respect our companies’ collaborative models while being 100% remote, and at the same time trying to manage home schooling, home workout… home everything? The rhythm is more intense, harder to balance. It requires a more strict and organized approach, as well as accepting some surprises and imperfections: taking a meeting break to help my daughter with her math lessons or fixing Netflix Kids were not part of my typical day-to-day a couple months ago!

What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?

Any tools which maintain or improve our sense of collaboration at a distance. Miro for the live dashboards and ideation tools, Zoom for the breakout sessions feature enabling to manage workshops, Google suite for collaborative editing, and Figma for a live design platform. You get to learn some tricks and shortcuts for everything related to video conferencing, as well as to be more disciplined against Slack or Hangout permanent nudges.

Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?

It’s admirable to see how local independent merchants have creatively pivoted their model to stay active while not being open to the public.

In Montreal for example, many neighborhood bike shops shifted to online appointment booking with contactless drop off & pick up and remote payment, while some bakeries moved to sandwiches home-delivery. All of it with an impressive agility and smart usage of technology.

On a bigger scale, brand initiatives like Frank & Oak’s are interesting: opening their eCommerce platform and logistics to offer consumers easy access to other local brands for necessary goods during the crisis (sanitizers, masks, care), with no profit attached to these sales.

I also love how Nike found the perfect communication to make confinement a point of pride while celebrating sport at home (« play inside, play for the world »), and goes beyond words by offering a free access to Nike Training Club premium services to all… while refactoring their apparel and Nike Air footwear material to create personal protective equipment.

What changes are you making to help your brand connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?

First, we adjusted and simplified the overall eCommerce flow and set of services. Less cognitive load to focus on clearer, faster and leaner services. We tweaked and optimized key steps from the product detail pages to the checkout, while being transparent on our actions in response to Covid-19 or regarding hick-ups that eCommerce operations might encounter during these times. Overall, we do everything we can to keep things simple for our customers: free shipping, easy return, simple products discovery.

Second, the ALDO & Call it Spring brand teams adjusted the content, tone, angle and even products selections. We want to convey a positive, engaging, inspiring experience, while acknowledging the importance of health rules. We want customers to feel a sense of care and comfort. We’ve been focusing on balancing positivity and togetherness with the reality of the situation. As our websites have natural integrations with social media —especially Instagram— and offer editorial content as well, we leveraged it to inspire our communities. From showcasing how content creators manage the situation from home, to exposing some our favorite feel-good tips, our goal was to share some fun, lighthearted moments. We have other initiatives in the making, stay tuned.

What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?

I’m mostly witnessing the acceleration of existing trends. We see more brands jumping into remote services, digital appointments, live-stream shopping or guidance via chat. The service models are moving faster towards digital connection and virtual solution. In a sense, this outstanding context is acting as a magnifier of everything: it amplifies new behaviours, it boosts hits & misses, it shines a light on what needs improvement.

We’ve also been exposed to some previews from Asia on how the shopping paradigm is adapting in response to the crisis, with higher requirements for protection and distancing measures which will become a new normal for the months to come. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for key learnings and best practices.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

In difficult times like these, we need to remember to stay true to our values and purpose. People will be more sensitive to companies reflecting their beliefs and listening to their needs & concerns. They will expect brands to naturally evolve their service and convenience level to fit with the new normal that is shaping up. My advice would be to listen to your people and your customers and communicate openly and transparently. We need to remember that we are all in this together.

What does long-term planning and strategy look like now at your brand?

Right now we’re all navigating through this crisis. Our community needs to be flexible, creative, keep an open mind and adjust to our new reality. Beyond the need for a strong resilient and agile mindset to navigate this outstanding situation, we all need to work together to build a progressive return to our new normal.

Econsultancy’s Ecommerce Best Practice Guide