Beyond the mask – how retailers and businesses can understand the changed customer landscape


Global teledentistry pioneer SmileDirectClub opened in the UK in 2019 as part of its rapid international expansion plans to offer accessible, affordable, and convenient solution of direct-to-consumer teeth straightening with clear aligner therapy. Its presence in multiple markets, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Austria and Germany has given SmileDirectClub an unparalleled view on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected consumers worldwide.

Kay Oswald, president international, offers his opinion on how British retailers and businesses can learn from what is happening elsewhere in the world. He says:

1.     Anticipate a cautious return to shopping

As the initial novelty of re-openings has waned, consumers will be measured in their plans to return to retail shopping as a hobby. Showing and telling how you’re keeping your team members and customers safe will be critical in ensuring all feel comfortable interacting with your brand.

2.     Consumers will expect premium digital experiences

Never has digital been more important than it is now. After months where the only access to the outside world has been through online ordering, consumers will search for the best products, and services online, considering the offering before they head into store. And while interacting with your brand, they’ll expect improved customer service with capabilities like video chat. We have scaled our digital and brand marketing efforts as the web becomes an even bigger access point for our services.

3.     Appointment based buying is on the rise

We run hundreds of SmileShops worldwide, but we don’t base our retail business on “walk-ins”. In order to provide the best customer experience, we’ve always booked appointments, or offered dentist-directed, easy-to-use at home impression kits. Expect to see more retailers driving appointments and optimising time in store to protect staff and customers or using multiple complementary entry points into their business.

4.     Businesses will be attracted to more flexible leasing models

The vast majority of SmileShops around the world operate on month-to-month leases, giving SmileDirectClub the flexibility to quickly adapt in any situation and the opportunity to optimise our business based on improvements and efficiencies and the performance of individual locations. It’s a model that has been pioneered in office rental markets but we will see this demanded by retailers from high street landlords.

5.     More companies will embrace a start-up mentality

Having an innovator mentality within any organisation is important but post COVID-19, the ability to quickly pivot is more important than ever. In the UK, we saw gin companies making hand sanitiser and at SmileDirectClub, we used our 3D printing facility, one of the largest in the world, to shift to also produce face shields and PPE for front line workers in the US – at scale – to do our part to address the medical supply shortage. In the UK and elsewhere around the globe, we pivoted our entire organisation and marketing efforts to support the growth of our impression kit business, which as a result saw doubled during the pandemic. It’s an entrepreneurial culture at the heart of the business and a mentality that companies need to adopt moving forward.