COVID-19 is drastically affecting short and long-term prospects for businesses. For example, according to data from research firm GlobalData Retail, by the morning of March 26th, 2020, more than 40% of retail square footage in the U.S. was closed. It is also worth noting that it is not only retail that is in trouble, but there is also a major slowdown in the business sector, along with an unprecedented number of jobless claims, which are only just starting.

Companies that remain open will, of course, need to prioritize the safety of their workers and customers over any other initiative. Once they have those protocols in place, companies should look at retaining customers during and after the pandemic. Many firms should turn toward incentive and loyalty programs that use virtual prepaid cards to reward customer behaviors during these difficult times. Done right, such programs can provide much-needed discounts to customers while also allowing them to remain viable and relevant during the crisis.

Stay Relevant to Build Loyalty
Understand what your customers need and want during this time and find special services you can provide to them. This might involve sending $30 via virtual gift cards or offering rewards, like a 20% discount on select products, for a specified period. It’s also important to communicate with your customers about the impacts of COVID-19 to your business relationship. Transparently talk about the ways your business model will shift, open yourself up to suggestions and try to create a dialogue with your customers. In the long term, the openness of communication will directly impact positive customer loyalty.

To keep some sales going, some firms are moving toward online-only models or an adjusted form of inperson shopping. For example, some retailers are offering customers options to purchase online, stop by the store, electronically check-in and then have items deposited into the customer’s trunk. This lowcontact sales approach enables some brands to keep fulfilling orders and maintain brand connectivity and loyalty while maintaining the CDC’s social distancing orders. Working in virtual payment cards to such processes can further boost sales and adoption by customers as a new way of completing transactions.

The Role of Virtual Payment Cards
Virtual prepaid cards give merchants the ability to meet multiple use cases from a single payments source. These cards have the same value and functions of a physical card but are issued via email or text. They are ideal for rebates and rewards as well as recurring loyalty programs. They completely remove the “physical” element of handing a customer a card or even sending something in the mail. It’s an ideal “touchless” way to provide discounts, rebates and various rewards.

A restaurant offering pickup or delivery could use virtual cards to reward frequent buyers or incorporate it into a referral program. It provides a discount for economically stressed consumers and gives the business a way to stay relevant. One important note is to ensure the creative messaging for any promotions or discounts isn’t inappropriate given the seriousness of the times. Make sure the branding and messaging that comes with the virtual cards makes sense and in no way minimizes the COVID-19 community threat.

Some payment vendors can set up virtual and physical card portals that can incorporate a company’s branding. These portals are another brand touchpoint and will enable customers to check balances and reload cards. Companies benefit from these portals through access to data and trend information, such as spending behaviors as well as immediate insight into the success of card-related programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic will at some point pass, and commerce will resume, although some areas will shift dramatically. Customers operating during this time will be remembered for their customer-facing actions. Brands should look for ways to stay connected with customers during the crisis, so they can set the tone for future customer interactions. Virtual prepaid cards can be a strong part of this process, as brands shift to the rules of social distancing and new realities for conducting business and building loyalty.

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