COVID-19 has affected all walks of life over the last year, especially small businesses as they experienced unprecedented challenges and disruptions. And while there are still significant marketplace impacts due to the pandemic, there are also many emerging opportunities for healing and growth. These ten actionable insights will help you identify those key opportunities in a continuously changing commerce landscape.
1. Review your inventory and/or services
As a consumer yourself, did you try a new brand or product in direct response to the pandemic? Most consumers did, so as a business decision maker, you should brainstorm what inventory and/or services would inspire future customers looking to try something new—and on the flip side, what should you remove from your program? When evaluating your ideal retail assortment, identify what has sold well historically, monitor what is currently selling, then figure out what combination works best moving forward.
2. Evaluate your vendors and service providers
While reflecting on what you sell, also consider who you are purchasing from. How can you reduce unnecessary expenses and limit overhead spend that doesn’t support your future sales goals? The key here is to accept that it’s not just about success anymore. Survival is among the new realities for businesses. Because of this, it is critical to approach this evaluation process strategically—be more proactive in order to be more profitable.
3. Plan your inventory and services
With survival in mind, this step is not always easy, but it is vital in business longevity. Ask yourself what changes you’ve made or need to make in order to adapt to the new constraints you have identified. Invest in new inventory and services that will more readily sell in this environment, then—with your anticipated revenue in mind—budget your expenditures accordingly. Collectively, these efforts can help you reach long-term success when combined with continued, ongoing analysis of what sells, what doesn’t, and how customers are adjusting in the marketplace.
4. Embrace local identity
Customers want and need local businesses to inspire their own unique worlds, but due to the ease and social distancing of online spending, even the hardest working merchants, spas, restaurants, boutiques, and more struggled during COVID-19. While unfortunate, we must accept this and combat it when possible.
One of the best ways to do this is to embrace your local identity and highlight the value of being a local business so that your customers can value this as well. To achieve this, you can:
Engage with community organizations such as your chamber of commerce or local merchants group
Organize events or experiences with non-competitive, yet like-minded businesses to help each other gain new customers while supporting existing ones
Reach out to your local media to help bring visibility to your unique business
Engage in social media to ensure you are part of the digital experience in which modern customers use to both engage with brands and seek guidance on how and where they should shop
5. Expand your selling avenues
The path to purchase hasn’t been straight for a long time, yet COVID-19 made it even more challenging for businesses and customers to connect. The key is for businesses to meet their customers wherever they are on the path to purchase. Despite roadblocks, detours, unexpected accidents, red lights, and more, the goal is to ensure customers are finding your business as their final destination of purchase. To help achieve this, ask yourself these questions:
Do you have a website? If not, make one. Even if you’re not selling on your website, you should still have one as an informative place that positively represents your business and shares what you offer and how customers can connect with you.
Do you offer BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store)? Do you offer curbside pickup for online purchases?
If you’re a food provider, do you offer delivery or use external delivery partners?
Do you sell on channels like eBay, Amazon, or Walmart as a way to move old or excess inventory? Your store can essentially be used as a warehouse.
If you need to move inventory fast, are there creative opportunities to sell on channels like Craigslist, letgo, or OfferUp?
Customers vary and so do their preferences to shop, so keep this in mind as you identify what selling avenues you should offer your customers.
6. Reconsider your in-store experience
To confidently welcome in customers, safety should be the number one priority for businesses. Protect your customers and your staff to help bring ease to in-person experiences. Ensure both shoppers and employees practice social distancing (6 feet apart) at all times, using signage to help remind everyone of this.
Limit the number of shoppers in your space and consider offering an organized space outside of your store to keep foot traffic moving smoothly. When a line does begin to form, keep the in-store traffic flowing by helping shoppers spend their time in store efficiently (e.g. help them find what they might be looking for), and frequently clean your store and parking lot, including sanitizing commonly touched surfaces.
Provide shoppers with hand sanitizer if possible, and ensure everyone in your store wears appropriate PPE (e.g. face masks, gloves). If you’re equipped, offer contactless payments whenever possible and avoid cash exchange to limit the spread of COVID-19.
7. Implement updated communication
Plain and simple, communication translates to customers. Because of this, you need to adjust your focus of communication to educate your customers, seek common ground with them, and let them know you are there for them. Align your social media and email campaigns for a consistent message about your focus as everyone returns to in-person commerce. Plus don’t forget the importance of leveraging Yelp and other digital touchpoints to connect with your audience. Collectively, these enhanced communication strategies will welcome customers to support your business knowing you take the details of COVID-19 to heart.
8. Review business policies
The policies and general conduct rules of your business impact how your employees engage with your customers and how your customers perceive your business. Because of this, now is the perfect time to review your business policies and confirm they’re in alignment with current needs and expectations. Some areas to consider are product restocking after customer handling/fittings, wrapping and bagging of purchases made, holds, returns and exchanges, layaways, and even restroom usage by customers in your business. As part of this process, make sure your entire staff is aware of any updates you have made in direct response to policies.
9. Prepare to adapt
By now you have likely recognized that operating as you used to is likely not an option. As you plan your adaptation strategy, ask yourself these three questions:
Is your eco-system capable of the adaptation you need?
Is your sweat equity enough to affect the outcomes you want?
Do you need platform changes?
One of the key considerations when adapting is to create an omni-channel presence, which ultimately means all the touchpoints of your business operations are cohesive. Every time a person comes into contact with your business—whether it’s in store, on the phone, or on social media—they should have a consistent and smooth experience with your brand.
10. Listen to your customers
This may seem obvious, but customers have changed amidst COVID-19. Your audience and your local footprint has changed. You need to really listen to them—and also ask them—so you can better support them. Your goal is to understand how to support them. Pay attention to their Yelp reviews, engage with their social media interactions, analyze the inventory that they are (or aren’t) buying. Then react. This will be the true determination of your survival as we look ahead into 2021.
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Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the founder and publisher of RetailMinded.com, a retail industry resource, recognized worldwide for its leading business insight since 2007. With a core concentration on independent retailers, small businesses, technology, and how the various touchpoints of commerce influence modern merchants, Reyhle is a frequent guest and contributor, including on the Today show, Forbes, Entrepreneur.com and more. Reyhle has supported American Express’s Small Business Saturday as a spokesperson and is the author of the book “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business” (McGraw-Hill). Recognized as a retail “futurist” for IBM, Reyhle is also cofounder of the Independent Retailer Conference. Learn more about Reyhle at RetailMinded.com.