Whether you sell online or in-store, returns are an inevitable cost in the retail industry. And they can be tricky – they can increase rapidly, aggressively cut into profit margins and cause logistics issues.
According to a recent study, the overall value of returned merchandise in the US during the past year was $309 billion, with online purchases accounting for $41 billion of that total. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the issue of returns even more.
While it is an increasing problem, how retailers deal with returns can help differentiate them from competitors, reduce return costs, and even make them more profitable.
Along with higher return rates, the pandemic has exacerbated certain return challenges and created new ones altogether, for example:
Given the challenges associated with returning products to stores, retailers are having to offer extended return windows.
Increased health and safety policies require stores to set aside returned merchandise for 24 hours to reduce COVID-19 transmission. For some retailers, thorough steam cleaning has become a popular sanitation measure.
Retailers must find additional retail space and assign labour costs to their sanitation processes.
Retailers face higher consumer expectations when it comes to the efficiency of the return process and free online returns. However, the pandemic has caused reduced staffing across warehouses, delaying return processes for many stores.
Understaffed stores must find additional resources to restock returned merchandise back on the sales floor.
The overhead associated with receiving and repacking merchandise for resale along with the disposal of unsaleable merchandise is increasingly cutting into profit margins.
The good news is that retailers can take a number of steps to both reduce return rates and make the overall process more efficient and less costly.
How to Reduce the Cost of Returns
1. Clearly communicate your pre-purchasereturn policy
Establishing standard operating procedures for handling returns will make the process more efficient and less costly for your business.
Aclearly communicated return policy will enable you to treat each return the same so you can avoid treating requests on a case by case basis. Processing every return manually can be expensive and overwhelm your staff, ultimately preventing you from scaling your business.
While policies are going to vary depending on the industry and the type of retailer, every policy should include certain elements. To find out more about writing a return policy and the basics you should cover, click here.
Once you have written up your policy, you need to make sure that customers see it before they buy. This means including links to your policy in hard to miss places on your website or e-commerce site, and near checkout tills in your physical stores. Clearly outlining your return policy will help set the right expectations before purchase, reducing hours spent on customer service.
2. Accurate online product information
If you’re selling online, one way to reduce the likelihood of returns is by providing your customers with accurate product information. Depending on the type of merchandise that you sell, this could mean in-depth size guides, diagrams, or photos that clearly showcase the appearance of your products. Doing so will give your customers a better idea of what they are purchasing and they’ll end up more satisfied with their decision.
Make sure that the information you provide on a certain page pertains to that particular product, category, and brand. For example, you don’t want to provide clothing size guides on a footwear product page.
If you sell internationally, it’s suggested that you include links to international conversion charts or images of such charts on product pages as well as both metric and imperial measurements.
Retailers with physical stores may also want to provide the same product information in-store, especially if COVID-19 has impacted a customer’s ability to interact with products (e.g. if changing rooms are closed).
3. Customer reviews
Featuring customer reviews and ratings on your website can play an important role in reducing returns. In fact, online reviews carry a lot of weight during a consumer’s path to purchase. According to Google, 88% of shoppers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Giving shoppers access to helpful, relevant reviews can give them a better understanding of the products they are considering and can help set expectations about functionality, quality, and usability. And by learning about others’ experiences with the product, shoppers can easily discern if it is right for them.
Customer reviews are a way for merchants to have a finger on the pulse of their business as they provide valuable shopper feedback that can be used to proactively reduce returns. For instance, reviews provide important insight about customer preferences (e.g. what type of shopper buys certain products and how they use them) as well as product flaws. Store owners should constantly be analyzing and reading customer feedback to identify ways that they can improve product quality and services.
Some retailers even use reviews to make important purchasing decisions – e.g. the number of inventory items that should be bought, whether or not to continue selling certain products etc. If specific products have an overwhelming amount of negative reviews, it is time to review the products or work with the supplier.
4. Use technology to optimize the handling of returned items
Many traditional retailers aren’t using systems designed to handle online returns which have increased a lot due to the recent boost in online shopping.
For many, the issue is managing returns once they reach a retail store or shipping facility. Most traditional stores are still new to handling online returns which can include everything from where to put inventory back into stock to processing refunds for online sales in-store. And returns can get even more complicated with multi-location retailers selling on different online channels.
For example, processing returns manually will require a lot more staff hours than returns handled by a system that properly restocks returned products based on the order status. This is a flaw with many retail sales systems as the focus is often on selling as many items as possible, and less thought is put into how to handle costly back office processes such as returns which can really cut into profit margins when not managed effectively.
While some systems will utilize 3rd party apps to manage returns, a complete retail platform will include built-in return features such as:
Return Control Settings such as requiring receipts for returns, requiring return reasons that are tracked by users or a separate return screen to minimize the potential for employee theft.
User Access Controls for Returns such as restricting access to return functions.
In-Store Refunds for Online Sales at the physical location where returned products are actually inspected prior to refunds.
Omnichannel Stock Control that puts returned products back into available stock in all online sales channels and at the location where they are returned immediately once the return order is finalized.
Besides making the process smoother for shoppers, directing returns to physical stores helps retailers save on:
1) The cost of packing materials and staff time to pack orders securely.
2) The shipping fees of returns which are commonly expected by shoppers today with online returns yet doubles the shipping costs for merchants.
3) The cost of damages or lost packages during transit. Even if a merchant has insurance, there are administrative costs to making constant claims.
4) The cost of compensating unhappy customers with additional or future discounts when shipments or refunds are delayed.
5) The higher payment fees charged by processors for online refunds vs. PCI compliant in-person refunds with EMV PIN pads.
But more importantly, returns in-store are more likely to increase the chance of converting a potential refund into an exchange, or even better, a larger sale if the shopper buys more than the original order.
In this way, even though returns can be costly, they can also be a way for a retailer to really differentiate and highlight their customer service. After all, according to Metapack:
92% of customers who receive a good return experience make repeat purchases
So optimizing how you handle returns can be a chance to interact with customers, provide them with a great shopping experience, and capture their loyalty for the long-term.
6. Offer buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS)
While there have been innovative strides taken in the retail industry to bridge the online and brick & mortar experience, even the best technology cannot replicate the in-store environment where customers can see and interact with products in person.
Oftentimes, returns are a result of customers not liking the product or the product not fitting properly. This can be reduced by providing a way for customers to touch or see the product in person before an order is complete. The ideal way to do this is with BOPIS which is also known as Click & Collect in some industries. For shoppers, it provides a convenient way for them to buy as well as return their purchases.
By offering a Buy Online Pickup In-store option, retailers provide their shoppers the convenience of online shopping with the interactive experience of purchasing in-store. And, of course, during the pandemic, this is a safer way for shoppers to buy yet still check their orders before taking them home.
Since the pandemic started this year, BOPIS orders are 275 percent higher than pre-COVID-19, even after stores reopened from lockdowns. Now that shoppers have been using store pickup for an extended period of time, studies show that consumers are unlikely to stop using BOPIS, even after the pandemic. This means that retailers need to find cost-effective ways to offer the service permanently with an omnichannel store system that can handle both sales and returns effectively based on the way people shop today.
Dealing with product returns is never fun, especially now with the complications brought on by COVID-19. However, when properly dealt with, retailers have the opportunity to minimize and even capitalize on returns. We hope our article outlined some of the ways to do so.
What are you doing to minimize returns in-store? Let us know in the comment section below.
Considering everything that is going on with the Coronavirus outbreak, Mother’s Day 2020 is taking place at an unusual time. But even though consumer shopping habits and behaviour have changed dramatically since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, shoppers are still planning to celebrate.
So make your merchandise stand out by putting a spotlight on Mother’s Day. You can do so by featuring Mother’s Day related products on the homepage of your e-commerce store.
Many e-commerce providers, including TAKU eCommerce, allow merchants to highlight specific merchandise by adding featured products to their store homepage. Featured products help retailers attract customer attention to certain items in their store and sell them faster. Here are a few tips when it comes to highlighting your merchandise:
Leveraging social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram that allow you to sell products directly, can help boost Mother’s Day exposure and sales. Here are a few things to keep in mind when promoting on social media:
Sell on Instagram and Facebook Shop: with billions of monthly active users, it is guaranteed that your customers are already on Facebook and Instagram. You can take advantage of their popularity to reach more customers and boost sales. Providing a way for them to browse and buy your products directly also increases the likelihood that they will make a purchase. All shoppers have to do is click on the “Shop” or “Store” tab to view your products. To find out how you can set up Facebook Shop in a few easy steps, click here . For more information on how to sell on Instagram, click here.
Here are a few ways you can provide your shoppers with convenience this Mother’s Day:
Offer contactless pickup and delivery options: With stores closed, shoppers still want a way to give something special to their moms. Offering the safety and convenience of contactless curbside pickup or delivery makes shopping easier for customers, gives them more flexibility, and helps them save on shipping costs. In turn, this boosts customer loyalty while strengthening your brand image. If you would like to learn how to set up curbside pickup in a few simple steps on TAKU eCommerce, click here.
Be helpful: try to be helpful instead of salesy in your Mother’s Day marketing campaign. Consider creating a Mother’s Day gift guide on your website or offer DIY gift ideas etc.
Due to the spread of COVID-19, many small business owners and brick & mortar retailers have been forced to close their doors. Here at TAKU Retail, we’re responding quickly with tips and new product features that will help retail owners navigate through these difficult times.
This quick tutorial will go over how you can continue to sell safely and conveniently by offering scheduled curbside pickup, even when your physical store is closed.
What is “curbside pickup” or “Buy Online Pickup In Store (BOPIS)”?
Curbside pickup or BOPIS allows shoppers to purchase products online and come to your storefront to pick the items up. This option can benefit your business in a number of ways:
Minimizes human interaction by eliminating the need for checkout inside the store
Avoids the risk of no-shows as customers have already paid in advance
Eliminates the need to buy packaging materials, the time and labor required to pack orders and any shipping fees
Minimizes the labor and time needed to process orders manually
Extends your “shop hours” as you can take orders 24/7 online without shoppers needing to wait to get through to somebody to take their orders.
Allows for better staff management, particularly with scheduled pickup, as you can see exactly when customers are expected and when orders need to be prepared.
How to set up scheduled pickup in TAKU eCommerce
In order to set up scheduled curbside pickup in your TAKU eCommerce store, follow these steps:
From your TAKU eCommerce dashboard, click on “Shipping & Pickup”
Scroll down to the “Add a new shipping method” section.
Click “+ Add Pickup” beside “Self Pickup”
4. Set a name for the pickup option – your customers will see this name at checkout.
5. Add “Detailed instructions for customers”. This is where you would describe how, where, and when customers can pick up their orders. Keep the instructions as simple as possible and remember to add your phone number so shoppers can call you when they arrive. You may also want to place a sign on your front door with pickup instructions and your phone number in case a customer arrives unexpectedly.
Please pull up to the front of the store or the designated parking spot. Please show us a copy of your invoice through your car window and one of our employees will place your order in your car trunk. Please stay inside your vehicle.
Note: If you would like to require your customers to leave their phone number at checkout, please follow these steps:
1. Go to your store dashboard
2. Hover over “Settings” under “Configuration”
3. Click on “General”
4. Click on “Cart & Checkout” at the top of the page
5. Scroll down and enable “Require phone number at checkout”
6. Optional step: enable the “Ask for pickup date and time at checkout” if you would like your customers to specify when they are going to pick up their orders.
Once you enable this feature, they will be required to set a pickup date and time when they place the order. To use this feature, you must specify your business hours (the days and times that you are open throughout the week) during the setup process.
7. You must also set your order fulfillment time. This refers to the amount of time it takes for you to prepare an order for pickup. The application will take your fulfillment time into consideration when offering pickup dates and times to your customers (e.g. if you need 24 hours to prepare an order, your customer will only be offered time slots (based on your business hours) starting at least 24 hours after the time of your order.)
8. If you have multiple pickup locations, repeat the steps above for each.
What does your customer see during online checkout?
We hope you found this article helpful. Keep an eye out on our blog for more e-commerce tips and tutorials.
To read more about how to be found by local shoppers, click here.
How easy is it for customers to find you online?
When you open an online store, attracting traffic or site visitors is very different from attracting foot traffic to your physical store. In fact, it can be even harder for shoppers to find you because there isn’t an equivalent to “street traffic” online. If you have a new online store that does not rank online in search results, would-be shoppers would need to know the exact website address to be able to find you.
This is why it’s common for a new web store to receive very little traffic in the beginning without any marketing. This is particularly true with brick and mortar first retailers as established stores often start online stores as secondary channels or even just as online catalogues. And even though the current COVID-19 crisis has driven many shoppers online, being found is still an issue when your web store is new. In order to get regular customers and traffic to your site, it’s going to take some effort on your part to promote and market your online shop.
Below you’ll find some easy and cost-effective ways to start promoting your online store to both new and existing customers.
Adding live chat to your online store allows you to chat directly with your website visitors in real-time. It’s a must-have tool for any online retailer as it’s one of the best ways to answer customer questions right when they are on your site and encourage immediate sales.
Instant messenger applications such as Facebook Messenger make it easy for retailers to add live chat to their site and take advantage of its many benefits. After all, millions of people already communicate through Facebook Messenger daily, presenting a huge market for retailers to tap into. Additionally, many e-commerce software providers (including TAKU eCommerce) offer direct integrations to Facebook Messenger – for free!
Click here to find out more about adding live chat to your TAKU online store.
The following are some of the ways your business can benefit from adding live chat to your website:
Reduced expenses: Traditional customer service and support teams usually operate via phone. But this can be costly – in terms of costs per employee and toll charges. For smaller retailers especially, a free live chat platform such as Facebook Messenger can help reduce costs substantially.
Increased sales: According to a study done by CrazyEgg, 38% of customers are more likely to buy from a company that offers live chat support.
As a retailer selling online, the best way to gain subscribers and have your emails stand out is to use email automation. For those not familiar with email automation, these are marketing tools that allow you to send out targeted messages at certain times or based on specific actions. For example, you can create email campaigns that automatically remind customers of the products they were interested in, encourage shoppers to buy products that they added to their online shopping carts but didn’t purchase (automated abandoned cart emails), or simply thank them for being loyal customers.
Basically, automated email campaigns give you the ability to use analytics to create an individualized email for each of your customers. And the benefits are numerous; you can encourage the first purchase, increase loyalty and drive repeat purchases, and re-engage inactive customers. As a result, you build personalized relationships with customers while increasing your revenue.
3. FREE Google Shopping listings
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Google just recently announced the launch of unpaid Product Listings. Beginning on April 27th, 2020, U.S. retailers will be able to sell on Google for free with Google Shopping. While it will initially launch in the States only, Google does have plans to expand this globally before the end of year. Click here to learn more.
Google Shopping Ads have proven to be one of the most effective ways to drive e-commerce sales. The ads appear above organic search results in Google and consist of a product image, rating, price, and store information. To learn more about Google Shopping, click here.
They have become a popular option for many ecommerce merchants and for good reason; they have a 30% higher conversion rate compared to text only ads. Below are some of the key benefits of Google Shopping:
Attract better store traffic: product ads are displayed based on the keywords a user searches for. For example, if a user conducts a search for “pet food”, Product Listings of pet stores will be shown. If a user isn’t interested in your products, your ads won’t be displayed – which brings us to the next point.
Higher ROI: Google Product Listings have a higher conversion rate due to the fact that they drive relevant traffic. This means more relevant traffic to your online store at a lower cost per click.
Stand out: Google Product Listings instantly grab the attention of users as they are the only ads in search results that contain photos.
Broad reach: Multiple products can appear under a single search which means more exposure for your store and products.
4. Selling on Facebook and Instagram
Facebook and Instagram remain the most popular social media platforms with both applications amassing billions of daily active users. Taking advantage of the popularity of both social media channels can help you reach new customers and sell more.
Think about it this way: your customers are already on social media. Adding a way for them to browse and purchase your products directly on each platform gives your brand increased visibility. And it makes it easier for shoppers to buy your products – all they have to do is click on the “Shop” or “Store” tab to view your products.
It takes just a few clicks to start selling on Facebook or Instagram with TAKU eCommerce. Click here to learn more.
The following are some ways you can drive more traffic to your store with Facebook Shop:
List store details such as your store address, phone, website, temporary service changes etc. This makes your business more accessible because it makes it easier for potential shoppers to find your business when they search Facebook.
Share content about your online store including special offers, new products, contests etc.
Use Facebook Ads to target a specific type of shopper, build brand loyalty, and increase your online sales.
Basically, retargeting is a form of online advertising that targets users based on their past behavior on your website. Chances are, you’ve been exposed to retargeting ads yourself at one point or another. For example, after browsing through some clothes online you may have noticed ads popping up on your social media advertising the specific clothes and store you were just viewing.
Retargeting ads are very effective at encouraging shoppers to “finish” their sale and generally cost less than regular social media ads. But it’s important to remember that they are only effective if you are already receiving a reasonable amount of website traffic as they will only be able target people who have already visited your online store.
The most popular methods of retargeting include using the Facebook pixel or Google Adwords. The Facebook pixel is essentially a small software code that “follows” your customers as they browse your online store and allows Facebook to advertise to them after.
You can start retargeting in minutes with TAKU eCommerce’s built-in integration with the Facebook pixel. Alternatively, you can download the retargeting app for Google and Facebook. Learn more here.
If you prefer to target customers using Google Adwords, you must add Google Analytics to your store and connect it with your Google Adwords account. Learn more here.
6. Optimize the checkout process
Retailers who are looking for ways to increase their online revenue often overlook the importance of checkout optimization. But in order to reduce checkout abandonment and improve your conversion rate, it’s important to create the best checkout experience possible.
The following are some ways to create the optimal e-commerce checkout experience:
Optimize the checkout experience for mobile: The majority of online shopping is done on mobile devices. When you are developing your layout, ensure your design is mobile-responsive. If you are not design or tech savvy, consider choosing an e-commerce provider with premade layouts. All of TAKU eCommerce’s pre-made themes are mobile-friendly but whatever platform you are using, make sure to always check your website on every device (desktop, tablet, mobile) once it’s published to make sure everything is re-sizing correctly.
Add custom messages at checkout: Display any important information to your customers at checkout. For example, you can draw your customers’ attention to special offers, remind them of your shipping/return policies, remind them that they will receive an email confirmation, etc.
Be transparent about costs: Unexpected costs are the number one cause of cart abandonment in the online shopping world. Make sure to provide as many details as possible by including a subtotal, shipping fees, applicable taxes, and a final order total.
We hope you found this article helpful.
Keep an eye out on our blog for more e-commerce marketing tips and strategies.
In the meantime, learn more about how you grow your retail business online with TAKU eCommerce.
The COVID-19 crisis has been traumatic for merchants and shoppers alike. With so many cities, regions and countries under lockdown, normal shopping routines have been disrupted. Many small businesses have adapted to offer alternative ways to shop from phone or chat orders to full online stores with curbside pickup and delivery.
Here are a few steps you can take to make sure local shoppers are aware that you’re open and let them know how they can support your business.
1. Update your Existing Customers by Email
If you’ve been collecting customer emails or regularly send out email newsletters, make sure to update your customers about updated store hours and new ordering methods. Email is often the easiest way in which to quickly communicate with your most loyal customers. Make sure to use an email marketing tool such as MailChimp so that customers can unsubscribe as required by privacy regulations.
2. Update your Google My Business (GMB) profile
One of the easiest and most effective ways you can communicate with your customers is by updating your Google My Business profile and other popular online local directory listings.
At a time like this, your customers are looking for updated information on your business operations. Google and Google Maps are often the first place that shoppers go to look for this information and so, your GMB profile needs to be accurate.
For example, if your hours of operation have changed because of Covid-19, you are temporarily closed, or are offering curbside pickup, you can update your GMB profile to reflect these changes.
Here are a few tips for providing the most accurate information to your customers:
Let people know if you have changed your services (e.g. if you are now selling products online through e-commerce or marketplaces, offering curbside pickup etc.)
If you are able to sell online, make sure you link your GMB profile directly to your online store to avoid shoppers missing your products.
Update your business hours & ensure phone number accuracy
Share any precautions your business is taking (in relation to cleaning and sanitizing products, new procedures, employee policies)
Stay connected to your customers by downloading the Google My Business app and turning on messaging. This way, it will be easier for customers to reach you.
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Google My Business has also released new features to help merchants communicate with their shoppers about updates pertaining to their businesses. These updates include:
The ability to mark a business or location as temporarily closed
You can add COVID-19 updates via GMB Posts in order to share timely updates about how your business is responding to the outbreak. Google has even created a tool for you to create free customized marketing materials. If you already have a verified Google My Business account, just visit https://marketingkit.withgoogle.com/ and type in your store name and easily customize the designs.
While it does not pertain to retailers, restaurants and quick service businesses can also specify new attributes such as takeout, dine-in, and delivery.
3. Get Added to Local Directory Listings
Other local directory listings also provide important information about your business to potential customers. Simply put, adding your business and maintaining updated listings in as many directories as possible will make it easier for customers to find you online.
So if you haven’t already, consider adding your business to the following online directories:
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve developed SupportRetail as a free tool to help connect local businesses to shoppers in the area who are looking for products that their business sells.
Getting listed on these directories helps your business increase your rankings in search results and reach more local shoppers. And the best part is that most of them are free to use and they generally only require a few steps to get set up!
4. Update your Social Media
Social media is one of the most useful channels for communicating and connecting with shoppers. Sending customers constant updates via email or SMS can backfire during these stressful times, whereas social media has proven to be much more accessible. Leveraging social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is key to a good communications strategy.
Here are a few recommendations when it comes to communicating with shoppers via social media:
Update your store on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to let shoppers know how your services have changed. This includes updating your store hours, contact details, and how your business is responding to the current climate.
Make sure to link the Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages for your business directly to your online store as you want shoppers to land directly in your webstore and see products when they click through.
As you can see below, Facebook has also added a special feature that allows business owners to specify how their services have changed in response to COVID-19.
Update your store’s Facebook Page to let shoppers know how your services have changed. This includes updating your store hours, contact details, and how your business is responding to the current climate. As you can see below, Facebook has added a feature that allows business owners to specify how their services have changed in response to COVID-19.
Share credible and relevant information: There are a few things that customers want to know right now. Is your store still open? If not, are you taking orders via e-commerce? How can they contact customer support? What measures are you taking to protect your employees? How are you supporting your local community? What can your local community do to serve you?
Help uplift your community and customers: In addition to keeping your customers updated, be helpful and courteous. Remember, the way you respond to this crisis is a reflection of your brand and company values. Your social posts and promotions need to reflect what is going on in the world right now. Otherwise, you risk coming across as tone-deaf or less credible.
5. Update your Website
Think of your homepage as a digital storefront. Your customers will use your homepage to find any promotions, navigate to product pages, find updates about your business etc.
Remember: If you are using the TAKU eCommerce WordPress plugin, you will need to link your e-commerce store to your existing navigation menu. Otherwise, your customers will not be able to get to your webstore from your website menu.
Consider having a banner or a section on your homepage that shares important information and updates about how you are responding to the current situation. For example, let shoppers know that you are offering curbside pickup or delivery options, updated customer service contact information, how customers can support you by purchasing gift cards, etc.
Note: Make sure to keep the most up-to-date information at the top of your message as you add new features and remove any outdated information. Customers may be shopping online and may not scroll to see messages further down the page.
6. Do a quick online search
Once you’re published, make sure you do a quick online search of your store to see how you rank in the search results and to make sure all of your links are updated. If you have any old or outdated links that have permanently changed, you can look into doing 301 redirects to get them automatically directed to the new URL addresses. If you’re not familiar with 301 redirects, you can ask your website administrator to assist.
While your physical doors may be closed, that doesn’t mean you can’t be open for business. You can still serve your customers by shifting your business online and offering curbside pickup and delivery options. To help you make the transition, TAKU eCommerce is offering a free trial until July 1st, 2020. Click here to learn more.
We hope you found this article helpful.
Keep an eye out on our blog for more e-commerce tips.
For more information on TAKU eCommerce, click here
👇👇👇 Scroll to Download the PDF Version ofour COVID-19 Survival Tips for Retailers!!
For retailers dealing with the impact of COVID-19, shutting down may not be an immediate option, particularly if they are an essential business in their community. Over the past 10 days, we’ve spoken with many small businesses who are looking for ways to better manage the impact. Scroll down for tips on how you can minimize the impact of COVID-19:
Sell Online and Stay in Contact with your Customers
Offer Contact-less Options. It is expected that shopper behaviour will be significantly impacted by COVID-19 at least until there is a vaccine developed next year. This means that shoppers will have health and safety top-of-mind for the foreseeable future. Prepare now to make sure you are prepared before your competitors. Take this time to set up “Leave At My Door” delivery options or “pre-scheduled contactless curbside pickup” with orders placed online, by phone, fax or email. These are great options as you have confirmed pre-paid sales before you pack an order, you minimize staff and customer exposure and you avoid the cost of packaging products for shipment.
Make sure you have a Google My Businessprofile and keep your store hours up-to-date. For a limited time, Google will be showcasing any Posts made on merchant GMB profiles to people searching locally to ensure that local businesses get more coverage in their community. GMB Local Posts are a free (!!) and effective way to stand out in local searches and update shoppers about any new offers, delivery options, etc
Connect with local businesses to pool resources. Large retailers who rely on delivery such as Amazon can’t ship products in a timely manner anymore. There may be an opportunity for your local businesses to step up, particularly if you supply complementary products by offering local delivery together.
Keep an eye out for government Requests for Proposals if you’re in a position to re-tool your business to help address the challenge of COVID-19..
Look for ways to leverage the new “Stay-at-home Economy,” the new market created by demand from family, friends and children in self-isolation as a result of coronavirus. There are reports of sizable increases in at-home related categories including: personal fitness gear, home office equipment, indoor games, home and garden supplies, educational materials and books, hobbies, entertainment-related electronics, direct-to-consumer (DTC) friendly products suitable for mail-order subscriptions such as coffee, etc.
Keep an eye on your POS sales data to see if there are new trends to make sure you are stocking and promoting the products that shoppers want now vs. what they wanted to buy a few months ago.
Take advantage of marketing offers to get free ad credits to reduce the cost of staying in contact with customers. For example, Google has announced $340 million in Google Ads credits available to all SMBs with active accounts over the past year. Credit notifications will appear in your existing Google Ads accounts and can be used at any point until the end of 2020 across Google advertising platforms.
Be flexible and don’t be afraid to take action. A flexible and adaptable mindset is what will get you through this crisis. The situation is changing day-by-day which means you will need to make adjustments in your response. Even if you come up against resistance in the beginning, shoppers will eventually come around because people still need to buy and consume things.
Expect long-term changes in shopper behavior. While some pre-crisis shopper behavior will return, this pandemic will have long-term impact on general shopping behavior. Make sure you’re aware of those changes and adapt your business to match them. My parents are both over the age of 70 and have never ordered anything online in their lives. While they still prefer shopping in stores, needless to say, they are both avid online grocery shoppers now and will likely continue to buy more online in the future as they find it more convenient for re-stocking.
If sell B2B, find a way to pivot to target recession-resistant or essential companies as they will be the most likely to invest in new products or services.
In-Store Management Tips
1) Encourage Visible Hygiene Management in store by having all staff use gloves or wear masks. Have hand sanitizers readily available at the checkout area, near doors with handles, etc. If possible, have staff wipe baskets or trolley handles before passing them to shoppers.
2) Have clear signage to help customers understand the impact of COVID-19 on your store and what to expect for their shopping experience. Download these signs from CFIB to customize for your own business: Temporary Closure Notice, Safety Notice to Visitors
3) Pre-pack bulk goods such as fresh produce wherever possible to minimize touch. Stop offering samples unless they are pre-packaged.
4) Encourage Social Distance In Store by increasing the space in the checkout area between cashiers and where shoppers are waiting to pay. It’s as simple as adding tape on the floor to clearly show where shoppers need to stand as Walmart has done. Costco has famously used pallets to enforce social distance requirements in an orderly fashion.
5) Merchandise for fast retail as most shoppers will be shopping for necessity versus discovery. Keeping in mind the social distance required for safety, you will want to consider moving fast-moving goods in an easier to access location.
6) Put up transparent barriers wherever possible to minimize transmission while protecting staff.
7) Encourage “Contactless” Payments (e.g. tap or Apple Pay) and discourage the use of cash to protect your staff wherever possible. You may even want to increase your “contactless” limit with your merchant processor but remember that you are liable for any potential chargebacks on “contactless” payments.
8) If you are an essential business that is still sourcing, pay special attention to your supply chain. Anything sourced from areas dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases will need alternatives in place. If necessary, even look at your suppliers’ suppliers for critical products.
9) Minimize Any Processes that Require Touch such as loyalty programs that require a tablet or credit card terminals that require optional prompts. Print out a QR code or signage for your web site and encourage users to sign up on their own phones.
10) Review Receipt Management Procedures to train staff to put receipts directly into shopping bags instead of handing them to customers or, even better, ask if they are ok to receive their receipts by email. Remember that privacy regulations require that you get positive customer consent to save their emails for future use so use an integrated email marketing tool to capture consent that will allow customers to unsubscribe themselves.
11) Sell In Store Gift Cards with an Incentive (e.g. extra $15 for every $100 gift card) to encourage shoppers to come back to the store when things are back to normal.
12) Offer Free Pens to shoppers who don’t have their own. It’s a cost-effective gift that discourages the use of public pens and helps customers remember you. Remember to minimize touch when offering them.
13) Communicate Proper Treatment Procedures when staff are sick. Make sure all managers and staff know what to do when they are sick. There is a lot of information out there – be sure to refer to the most credible medical sources in your country. In Canada, that will mean the public health authorities for your province or territory. In the US, the CDC is a reliable authority for guidance. For further details, you can also review the steps to prepare worksplaces for COVID-19 published by the WHO.
14) Minimize the Number of Shoppers In-Store to protect your own employees and make sure that shoppers are both comfortable and safe while in your store.