The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on most industries across the world, including retail which has experienced significant losses over the past few months.
Amidst strict travel restrictions, local limitations on movement and other social distancing measures, retailers are already feeling the heat. Some sellers of essential commodities, like grocery stores and pharmacies, are experiencing a surge in demand. Others, like flooring stores, drapery stores, salons and restaurants have been hit hard and have a huge challenge to overcome in the coming days.
As the virus continues to spread and social distancing remains in place, it’s important for retailers to adapt to this changing world and find ways to keep their business running.
5 Tips for Retailers to Survive COVID-19
As the coronavirus outbreak continues, most governments have asked people to stay indoors and non-essential businesses to shut their doors to in-store consumers. In light of this new reality, business owners must find innovative ways to reach out to their customers and respond to their needs while maintaining social distancing.
Here are five effective ways to do that.
Establish and Ensure Health and Safety Protocols
No matter what type of retail business you own, you need strict health and safety protocols. Establish and reinforce rules for wearing masks and gloves in the workplace, washing hands, and disinfecting surfaces like chairs, tables, computers, POS terminals and door handles. Ask symptomatic employees to isolate at home and undergo proper treatment. Cleaning staff should also use disposable gloves and coveralls, including handling trash. If someone in your store/organization tests positive, immediately seal off the area in which they work for thorough sanitization.
Once you’ve implemented these safety measures, share these procedures with your customers so they can feel assured that you’re doing everything to make their shopping safer. Use email, instant messaging tools and social media channels to reach out to customers. Even if your store is closed and you’re offering online services, knowing your commodities are coming from a clean, safe environment can win your customers’ trust.
Take Orders Online
The longer the pandemic persists, the more difficult it will be to manage your labour and finances. So, spend your resources only on what will bring good returns. As the lockdown eases and people start buying more, you may start receiving orders via phone calls or WhatsApp messages. As customer demand gradually increases, it can become tedious to keep tabs on orders coming from multiple channels. Simplify the order-taking process through integrated online ordering apps and save a chunk of your time, money and labour.
Also, the supply chain slowdown means that the big e-commerce companies are experiencing a shortage in stock and are having trouble meeting their customers’ demand. Capitalize on this by emphasizing your local approach and take orders online.
Another idea you may not have thought of is using your store as a digital commerce hub. Even if your store is closed for regular commercial shopping, you can collaborate with package delivery services and use your store as a distribution hub for ordered products. In this way you can attract new customers who may not have known about you previously.
Stock Only the Essentials
Your business might be doing okay for now, but what countermeasures will you take in the coming months to make up for your losses? Plan, prepare and stock products accordingly for upcoming promotional plans and offers. Many distributors/suppliers across different product lines are stretched to their limit, and they may take some time to get on track. Since stock is limited, prices are also high. Hence, it’s advisable to store only what consumers generally need/want. Having fewer but essential products will be more helpful during these trying times, when everyone is trying to save money.
Consider Operating from Multiple Service Points
Aside from serving in your own community, you can also consider working at other locations. If customers cannot come to you, you can always reach out to them. Demand may vary from one community to another, so while some stores are closing down because of limited local interest, others cannot meet the increasing needs of customers. Take this opportunity to earn revenue and new customers who need your products/services.
Get Transparent About Your Business
What should retailers do to keep their employees happy and increase their customer base during these difficult times? First, stay transparent about your business. E-commerce and remote selling is all about trust and transparency, so adopting these policies for your business may help.
While shipping delays and limited stock are two of the most common problems for e-shoppers these days, keep them informed about their product’s availability. If a customer has recently searched for a particular product or made a purchase which is still in stock, call them or send online reminders about its availability. Similarly, inform them about its unavailability when you need to. Never try to hold on to your customers with false promises like “it will be soon in stock” when you aren’t sure.
Tell your employees about your emergency business plan and share how you feel about it. The impact of this global health crisis is every bit emotional as physical. If you have to take certain measures like adjusting operating hours or switching to a new business, tell your employees about it and give them reasons for your decisions.
The world – and that includes business – has not dealt with a situation like this in over a century, so there’s no such thing as the ‘best’ way to make it through. To keep your business afloat you need to communicate with your customers. You can use online ordering apps, virtual queuing systems, YouTube Videos and social media platforms to keep them engaged and informed. Most importantly, stay positive and maintain your composure. Remember, tough times don’t last but tough people do.