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Himanshu Parikh – Michaels

COVID’s necessity becomes the mother of invention

Besieged with a pandemic crisis, Americans are experiencing a new stay-at-home existence—and the life-altering restrictions that come with it. With schools shut down just about everywhere, part of this new reality is having the kids at home—where many of them are bored to tears.

Many parents are going “old-school,” turning to tried-and-true indoor activities like arts and crafts and scrapbooking. To meet that growing demand, the IT team led by Himanshu Parikh for arts and crafts giant Michaels quickly put together curbside pickup as an extension of its online e-commerce.

Himanshu Parikh | Senior Vice President – Solution Delivery – IT

While COVID-19 forced the temporary closure of up to one-third of Michaels’ 1,300 stores—chiefly those in the hot zones of California, New York and Washington state—many locations remain open, and are already benefitting from the curbside program. Rolled out in mid-March—in just few days—the safely administered shopping experience has been made available at most locations.

“It was a big change, but we mobilized quickly and kept safety of customers and team members at center,” Parikh says.

Easy breezy

Founded in 1973, the Irving, Texas-based company is North America’s largest arts and crafts retailer, and a hub for do-it-yourself home decorators. While he can’t comment on how this crisis has impacted sales, Parikh says retailers across the board are being negatively impacted, resulting in either full or partial closure of stores.

With government at all levels pleading people to stay at home and social distancing, Parikh says the company immediately saw a shift in customer behavior to engage online. To get the word out about its new curbside pickup program, Michaels emailed customers and highlighted the  initiative on the company’s website and social media. Michaels also made available crafting projects under its “Inspiration Hub” section of  www.michaels.com.

Himanshu Parikh – Michaels

“Our content offers many ideas to bust the boredom,” he says.

To order supplies, a customer merely logs in on a mobile device or laptop and enters a zip code, which shows them the closest location. Once they pay online, they’ll get an email notification and instructions for pickup. When they arrive in the store’s parking lot, they call a number and their order is brought out and put in their trunk.

Alternatively, customers can opt to have goods delivered to their home. The bottom line, Parikh says, is that consumers now have options for shopping that correspond with safety and social distancing protocols

“It was a great team effort,” Parikh says. “We pulled things together quickly between our store operations group, IT, e-commerce and marketing. Our goal was to create low-tech solutions that were effective, and with agility in this new way of conducting business.”

Adapt, and survive

To be sure, COVID-19 has had a massive impact on retailers, accelerating the need for greater e-commerce options.

Parikh says the company has seen first-hand the effect of having millions of customers forced to stay home. More specifically, he’s starting to see new trends with respect to how the internet is being used – a less physical to more virtual online engagement; the effects of school and non-essential businesses closures; how people are avoiding stores; and the cessation of mass gatherings.

“What’s top of mind for us is monitoring how consumer behavior is changing and how we have to adapt and keep it safe for customers and team members,” he says. “At Michaels, we’re committed to helping our customers stay creative—and safe—even when times are hard.”

Fast-forward to the future

While his talents in e-commerce have served him well with the company, it’s his leadership experience—cultivated over the course of a 25-year career—that’s loomed largest during the pandemic.

Looking back, Parikh says that while he’s seen his share of drastic situations—9/11 and SARS both had significant impacts on the supply chain and customer behavior—nothing compares to the still-unfolding COVID crisis.

“You have to be decisive,” Parikh says. “Those situations impacted business in the past and required some level of out of-the box thinking.”

The company’s curbside initiative is a prime example of this phenomenon.

“We’ve learned a lot from this situation and will come out on the other side in a better way,” he says. “And it wouldn’t surprise me if practices we adopt during this, stay long-term.”

When he spoke with Toggle, Parikh was already creating more customer-centric initiatives, improving best-practices for the company’s customer relationship management platform and so on.

”My core job at Michaels was always to drive customer engagement in a digital way,” he says. “I was involved in digital projects every day and with the COVID-19 crisis we had to ramp up and adjust to what’s needed and adapt as we learned how customer behavior is shifting. We’re all working together as cross functional teams to do everything we can to help with the situation.”

Himanshu Parikh – Michaels

As for when things normalize, Parikh won’t venture a guess. Rather, the focus—as ever—is on what’s right in front of him.

“It will be an interesting evolution,” Parikh says. “A segment of customers who infrequently shopped online before, but now due to the current situation, they’re doing it and potentially getting comfortable. This will shift their behavior to be more readily be part of the online shopping world and be savvy to take advantages of shopping choices of ‘Buy online, pickup in store,’ ‘Curbside Pickup’ or ‘Ship-to-home.’ There will more of a shift to digital engagement, that’s what will happen.”

Published on: May 12, 2020

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