• 20 min read

Getting Through COVID-19: 10 Tips for Retail Businesses

The RingCentral team

To say the world is changing is a vast understatement. COVID-19 has forced business closures, caused massive job loss, and everything in general has been forced to move a bit slower.

But the fact is that life has been changing for a while.

If you work in a retail business, you probably understand why customers enjoy shopping online so much. You’ve probably done it yourself. 

Foot traffic in a small shop is becoming more about the experience of going out to shop rather than a necessity, and now even with grocery stores having the capability of someone else shopping for you while you sit in your car and wait for your order to arrive, the world is becoming more disconnected from the one-to-one experience and more connected to their keyboards.

There has never been a time where entrepreneurs have had to be as innovative and creative like they are having to be now. But even in crisis, whether it’s a global pandemic or otherwise, there are ways to keep customers showing up for your business.

Here are 10 tips that’ll help reassure your customers that you’re putting their needs first and allowing change to make you a more empathetic retail business owner:

  1. Make sure all your customer-facing messaging is up-to-date.
  2. Check in with suppliers
  3. Find new ways to broaden your digital sales
  4. Find community with local businesses on social media
  5. Look out for government resources
  6. Budget, refine, repeat
  7. Communicate clear expectations to employees and customers
  8. Reinforce safety and comfort for customers
  9. Push online sales
  10. Plan for the future

1. Make sure all your customer-facing messaging is up-to-date.

Let’s start off with a relatively easy one. Do a quick audit of all your customer-facing messaging—this includes your business’ voicemail recording or phone greeting, your social media profiles, and your Google business profile… any channel where your customers can find you.

Why? Well, your customers (especially if they really like you or if they’re regulars) might be wondering when you’ll reopen, or if your business will continue operating in a slightly modified way (doing curbside pickups only, for instance). Instead of answering these questions on the phone and constantly repeating yourself, make it easy for your customers to find this information on their own when they’re contacting you!

2. Check in with suppliers

The entire world is moving at a slower pace, which means your suppliers might also be shut down or delayed. Make sure to check in with your suppliers and communicate what your needs are and how to find out how things have changed for them. 

If you have foreign suppliers that are unable to ship, consider reaching out to city and/or county development offices to connect with local suppliers you can source from and don’t forget that you can also use marketplaces like Shopify and Amazon. 

Just make sure you check availability and delivery estimates so that you can properly budget for the possible changes.

Caption: Norman and Jules is a small toy shop in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, NY that had to close due to COVID-19 safety measures but is maintaining sales online. Source

3. Find new ways to broaden your digital sales

Do you have an e-commerce store? If not, you should. What about offering pick up in store? Can you offer discounts or sell digital gift cards? These are all small things that every retail business can offer in order to boost digital sales. 

Finding ways to make it easier for your customers to buy from you online and get them continually coming back is key. For example, here’s how Warby Parker does it. What’s impressive is they’ve taken the process of buying glasses (which traditionally has to be done in-store) and moved it fully online!

4. Find community with local businesses on social media

Almost everyone has heard the pithy saying that it’s all about “community over competition,” but in times of crisis, there’s never a better moment to embrace the community you’re in and find how everyone else is coping. 

Joining social media groups that other retail and e-commerce businesses are in can help you learn to troubleshoot issues you have and receive support from other business owners like yourself. Plus, you might even be able to find ways to give back and support others. 

5. Look out for government resources

While the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) may be getting the most buzz nationally, there are other resources you can be looking out for on the state and local level that might be able to help sustain your business when foot traffic is nonexistent. 

6. Budget, refine, repeat

Pandemic or not, without a thoughtful and intentional budget, it’s only a matter of time before any business starts suffering (unless you have really deep pockets, maybe). Take this time to crunch the numbers and see what’s truly necessary. 

While you may not have a ton of extra cash at the moment, one thing you might consider investing in (if you haven’t already) is an accountant for your business. QuickBooks is a fantastic business budgeting software that has become an industry standard that will help you keep to a  budget and save for the future.

You might also consider combining some of the services you already have, such as phone services and team messaging with something more affordable. Be objective and think through the things that are truly necessary for your doors to stay open, and then find ways to stay cash flow positive by cutting out what’s weighing your budget down. 

7. Communicate clear expectations to your employees and customers

Your customers and your employees are the lifeblood of your business. Without them, you don’t have a business, so make sure to communicate to them how your business is changing in uncertain times. 

Do your best to take care of your employees, but keep expectations realistic so that no one is left feeling betrayed or holding onto unrealistic expectations. Put posters up in your brick and mortar (if you have one) and post on all your online platforms to keep your customers informed on how things are changing. 

The idea is to build empathy and loyalty to your brand so that when it’s back to business as usual, your customers can’t wait to shop in store again: 

8. Reinforce safety and comfort standards for customers

As many states are now starting to reopen, it goes without saying that consumers might feel a bit unsure about returning to your business. Make sure that you communicate the safety and comfort standards that’ll allow them to shop in an environment that follows the rules made by your state and makes them feel comfortable being there. 

Pro-tip: Check out the CDC guidelines for stores that are planning to reopen.

If you have a social media platform, post to every platform what the new protocols will be, set up hand sanitizing stations, and consider allowing a smaller number of people into your store at a time in order to reduce customer stress and enforce social distancing in a friendly way. 

If your customers feel you are taking their safety seriously, they’ll respect your efforts—and in the long run, that’ll help you build brand loyalty:

9. Push online sales

It goes without saying that the lifeblood of any small business is being able to saturate the market with your presence—and the best way to do this is with a strong online presence. 

Whether it’s selling through your website, Instagram, or some other platform, find ways to continually get your products in front of the public, even when the public can’t come to you. 

Consider offering promotional discounts or having contests and giveaways that can boost your social media presence while also blessing a lucky customer (or two) with free goods. If you haven’t considered using Facebook ads to market your goods, now would be a great time to try it, even just as an experiment. 

No matter how you decide to market yourself, just make sure that your online presence is strong so that even when your customers are sheltering in place, they can still see what you’re offering and easily browse as if they were walking through your store.

10. Plan for the future

While it’s impossible to know what is going to happen to the market next, you can still prepare based on what we’re learning now. If you didn’t have a strong online presence before, it’s time to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon and find ways to reach your customer when they’re on their couch. 

Think about your budget, the impact your business has on your employees and how you can retain them, and even how your business impacts the environment. This is a time to communicate with other small business owners and see what is working for them and learn from each other’s mistakes. 

The retail landscape has adapted—and so should you

The future of retail has vastly changed just within the last three months, and if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that even hard working business owners can lose their businesses if they’re not willing to get creative and try new things. 

Hopefully this list will inspire you to find new ways to infuse some innovation in how you do business in the retail space and allow your business to thrive even in the midst of a global pandemic.

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