Whether it was the rise of technology and a switch to online consumerism, the global financial crisis or, now, COVID-19, bricks-and-mortar retailers have faced challenges in the past. Challenges that they have weathered, evolved through and grown beyond.
With many millions of retailers worldwide currently in a temporary, induced shut-down as governments and authorities seek to stem the spread of coronavirus, it’s a concerning time. But we want to reassure independent retailers that shut-down is temporary, and it’s of your physical store only – not your business.
While your shutters may be down, it’s an opportunity to open or refine a sleek, eye-catching eCommerce store and improve your operations for an eventual re-opening. To help retailers remain active and, as far as is possible, prosperous during this period, we have mapped out four phases of impact, and how to manage each of them.
Additionally, to help retailers not only with advice but tools and software in this time of need, we are also offering three months free of Vend’s advanced industry-leading loyalty program, powered by Marsello, plus three months of BigCommerce’s powerful eCommerce platform, to help them trade when their physical store is shut and manage their customer base through these difficult times. Here’s what retailers can do.
1. Keep communicating
Many Australian retailers have put up the ‘closed’ sign in the shop fronts, but that doesn’t have to mean the end of trading until governments and authorities decide it’s time for highstreets to reopen again.
Even with your physical store closed, it doesn’t mean your customers don’t still have a need for your beautiful products – all that’s changed is how they buy and receive them. So in the immediate future, prioritise honest, open and regular communication so your customers know exactly how, when and where they can continue to engage with you.
Online marketing tools like Marsello let you talk to your customers via email, SMS and social media and maintain communication. Regularly update customers via email, social media, SMS or any other platform they use about how your business will operate in the interim, how they can continue engaging with you and, perhaps most importantly, how and when they can explore your new or improved eCommerce site. After all, even if your physical store is closed, that’s not to say you can’t help customers fill their digital shopping carts instead.
2. eCommerce, eCommerce and more eCommerce
For generations, the retail industry has been built on hard-working, engaging retailers with beautiful products and a passion for creating beautiful interactions with their customers.
While that – and small bespoke retailers adding vibrancy and diversity to high streets across Australia – remains the golden future of retail, there is a need to focus on eCommerce for the short-term. That’s not to say the delightful, memorable and engaging experiences between retailers and their customers can’t exist online too.
In the current climate, every sale, lead and connection matters. It’s more urgent than ever to activate an eCommerce offering, so your business can continue to take orders and make sales over the coming weeks and months. You’ll need to undertake efforts to encourage people to shop online, to promote any discounts or deals, and to focus on your loyalty schemes.
Now is the time to make your checkout process as seamless as possible and clearly include your current delivery options and wider business processes. Then, with your eCommerce site as the focal point, promote your beautiful products on any channel possible, from Instagram and Facebook to email and SMS.
3. Prepare, consolidate and get ready
While your store is closed, it’s the perfect time to make any changes, implement processes and carry out the stock checks that always got shunted down your ‘to-do’ list when you were too busy.
That’s because lockdowns will lift, stores will reopen and customers will return, even though it’s still too soon to know exactly when and to what extent. Use the intervening period as an opportunity to get everything ready behind the scenes so that, when your local highstreet is ready for its grand reopening, you’re ready to hit the ground running.
One of the best ways to spend your time now – alongside your eCommerce store, of course – is getting on top of your stock. Physical stock counts are difficult when shoppers are in store and you’re all-systems-go, so now could be the opportune time to carry out a thorough stock count.
Digitise your stock-taking process using an app like Vend’s free Scanner, which lets you do full and partial inventory counts using your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. In addition to your stock, why not also use this time to master your reporting and analytics, too. At a time when much is uncertain, try to take the guesswork out as much as possible. Whether you’re looking for a high-level view of your business or want to get into the nitty-gritty details, get all the information you need lightning fast.
4. Reopen for business
While it may seem a long way off now, there will come a time when the shut-down will come to an end and you’re ready to open your doors again. The good news is that, even when you’re sweeping the floor or polishing the counter tops, your eCommerce store and all the work you did behind the scenes should stand you in good stead to get up-and-running again as seamlessly as possible.
So be proud of what you’ve achieved, and why not re-open with a bang?
You could spruce up your storefront, make a big splash on social media, send emails and texts to your customers and even hold special re-opening events for all your staff, customers and anyone else who helped you navigate testing times.
And then, you’re the expert – it’s time to create delightful beautiful retail experiences again and show the world exactly what makes you a dynamic, innovative and downright essential independent retailer.
While these are indeed testing times, collectively and individually Australian retailers have faced and conquered challenges before, and come out on the other side as more adaptable and future-proof business.
So, while that’s not to say the coming months won’t be amongst your most challenging, as Australia’s retail family, we’re here to support, encourage and champion each other so that, after the shut-down is over, a beautiful retail sporing will blossom.
Dave Scheine is the Managing Director APAC at Vend