As retail businesses slowly begin to re-open, the question everyone is asking is what will be the new normal. It will be critical to consider not only how the pandemic has affected the habits of shoppers, but also what they will be expecting from retailers when they start returning to the physical store. Several key things to consider are:
1) How much of the current change in consumer habits will be permanent
2) How can small businesses adapt for growth post COVID-19
3) The importance of marketing and engaging with customers online
Change in Shopping Habits
With the ongoing uncertainty, there are key categories that will remain important for consumers over the next 6-12 months. Health is the new wealth, and there will be increasing demand for products related to personal care, wellness, and nutrition. After all, “in-homing” may end up being a permanent change for some companies and workplaces. Interior design services and home furnishing businesses have and may continue to experience a growth post COVID-19 as people redesign their living spaces. Categories such as electronics, home and kitchen appliances, media and gaming, toys, sporting goods, DIY, and crafts are expected to be in demand over the long-term.
New Behaviours and Shopper Expectations
Shoppers will not go back to their old ways post COVID-19. Even when safety is no longer a concern, some of the short-term behaviours adopted may become permanent — 29% of shoppers have stated that they are now making online purchases for items they would have previously only purchased in stores. On the other hand, shoppers will also crave that face-to-face human interaction they’ve missed after months of social isolation. This means that the focus should still be on creating a great in-store customer experience if you want to maximize the potential of your store. There will also be new expectations on what a great shopping experience will look like which is why the seamless management of both online and physical shopping is so important during and even after the pandemic. This can be something as simple as being able to handle inventory levels in real-time across all of your sales channels to avoid selling your customers products you don’t have in stock.
Consumers will also be looking at retailers to provide comfort and a sense of well-being post COVID-19 as the current demand for cleanliness is unlikely to go away any time soon. Frequent cleaning and investing in equipment such as hand sanitizer posts, plexi-glass screens, and contactless self-checkout options will be necessary as currently over 85% of US consumers prefer to shop in stores with no-touch options. Investing in new processes and training is also critical to ensure employees follow new procedures to make customers feel comfortable as they shop in physical stores.
Adapting for Long-Term Growth
Many retailers are now focused on trying to apply quick fixes to move online during the pandemic. But this is very different from planning for the “New Normal”, where your business will need the flexibility to serve your customers wherever and however they need to be served. Businesses will also need to consider the higher delivery and labour costs involved with digital commerce, and try to find new ways to up-sell and improve the size of baskets online or encourage curbside pickup in order to increase profitability. Modern retail software platforms such as TAKU support retailers with a single view of all the data across all of your sales devices (checkout tills, mPOS), all of your sales channels (in-store, online, social media, marketplaces), and all of your delivery methods (shipping or pickup). Unifying all of your sales, customer and inventory data will be critical to your being able to react quickly to meet the new expectations of the post COVID-19 shopper.
Re-Assess your Business to Remain Relevant and Manage Risk
For some retailers, now is also the time to review your business model, and reinvent. Local distilleries, apparel, and home furnishing stores have all adapted to help produce PPE to support frontline workers, and the general public. Meanwhile traditional wholesalers have started selling direct-to-customer. Restaurants have begun selling meal-kits, and creating mini storefronts for essential ingredients. More service-oriented businesses such as beauty salons or after school programs are now offering DIY kits or programs that enable consumers to use their products while in-homing. This type of creativity and resilience helps businesses to broaden their offering, and manage their risk in preparation for the potential second wave when flu season is back again.
As every country is at a different stage of the pandemic cycle, shopper trends will also differ by market. A key opportunity for growth will be to leverage technology that gives you operational flexibility and the ability to sell outside of your current market. With a second wave expected in the fall, and the economic pressures that are already being felt across markets, diversifying and broadening your consumer base online will be essential to managing your business risk locally.
Importance of Marketing
It is critical to continue to connect with your customers and community so they know when and how to support your business, even after your store re-opens. One advantage of marketing during a downturn is that it is now also cheaper for businesses to buy digital advertising. Companies have also rallied together to help small businesses which have struggled to quickly adapt to selling online during this pandemic. Local free marketing platforms such as Support Retail help small businesses by providing consumers with a tool that allows them to easily find local retailers by type, location, or alphabetically. Support Retail also helps provide free social postings for local retailers via its Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.
Facebook and Instagram have also introduced new features to help local businesses that have limited marketing budgets to set-up a more effective e-commerce strategy. #supportsmallbusiness hashtag, “support small business” sticker, “business nearby” feature, and business messenger inbox are just some of the tools developed to help users rally around local retailers. These tools enable small businesses to reach their audience online, and also run focused campaigns to local communities at a lower cost.
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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.
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, you are temporarily closed, or are offering curbside pickup, you can update your GMB profile to reflect these changes.
Here are a fews 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 ecommerce 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 datato 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 creditsto 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 companiesas 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.
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There’s no denying that we now live in a physically and digitally connected world. The benefits of being globally interconnected are visible in the growth and stability of the world economy over the past decade since the 2008 global financial crisis. But history and economies are cyclical. We were already looking at a potential downturn before the recent coronavirus global pandemic started but retailers are now looking at the most unpredictable global business environment in decades. This is where retail crisis management helps to give businesses options to manage the unknown.
For businesses that were launched in good times, owners will now need to quickly adapt to the challenges of managing uncertainty and risk. Like any other business, owning a retail store comes with its fair share of risks. Even at the best of times, store owners must deal with operational risks that impact cash flow. After all, the US economy was strong for the majority of 2019, yet U.S. retailers still lost 50.6 billion due to inventory shrinkage alone.
With the help of new technology, there are ever more ways to tackle theft and organized retail crime, but they are not the only challenges facing retailers today. Whether it’s a natural disaster in the form of a fire or flood, supply chain disruptions, or an employee ranting about the company on social media, unexpected retail risks can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help minimize the risk of unexpected emergencies, plan for interruptions to your retail business, and do your best to protect your employees, assets, and reputation.
I’m not by any means a risk management expert. I am, however, a repeat small business owner. So I know what it’s like to face the terror of a sudden downturn AND not be prepared to deal with negative cash flow. If any of the tips below help others minimize their stress or better prepare for the next crisis, that’s good enough.
Environmental disasters are external crises that are generally out of the control of any one private business. These include forest fires, hurricanes and, of course, global health pandemics. Because these are environmental and often cannot be predicted, these are often the most costly. They usually impact the economies of entire countries, can cost billions of dollars in damage to affected businesses and homes, and require a long recovery time. Besides the $1 billion in lost sales experienced by retailers during hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, these disasters resulted in $125 billion in property damage.
Business Insurance for Major Disasters
Nobody really likes to purchase business insurance but it’s often critical to the survival of a company in the face of a business-interrupting disaster. Even if you don’t live in an area that is prone to serious storms or other seasonal events, you need to make sure you have enough insurance to cover fire/water damage for your inventory, assets or property. Not only is this type of coverage mandatory on some leaseholds, it’s the only way to protect yourself against legal claims if there is 3rd party damage during an incident, which is also a key part of retail crisis management.
It’s important to remember that environmental disasters can be considered “acts of God” or “force majeure” and can nullify some insurance depending on your carrier and the type of plan you have. While some companies will step up at times of crises, you shouldn’t count on the possibility of coverage in the middle of a disaster if your plan has such exemptions. This is exactly why you should always read your insurance policy to understand what type of financial coverage you are actually buying. If the language in the fine print is too much, write to your insurance broker to make sure they give you a clear written response on what coverage you get with your insurance premiums
Technology, Flexibility and Adaptability
Adaptability for a business today is often tied to flexibility and technology. How flexible your processes are will determine how quickly you can adapt to different market environments. For retailers, this means using technology and tools that will allow you to immediately change how you are selling or taking payment with customers. The latest cloud systems not only automatically back-up your data, they work on any device and allow you to sell wherever your customer is. So when your store suddenly loses power, you can switch from your till to your mobile phone to keep selling.
For retailers dealing with the impact of COVID-19, for example, shutting down may not be an immediate option. Small businesses who cannot afford to shutdown or are looking for better ways to manage the impact are encouraged to:
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.
Encourage Social Distance In Store by increasing the space in the checkout area between cashiers and where shoppers are waiting to pay. Stop offering samples unless they are pre-packaged.
Encourage “Contactless” Payments (e.g. tap or Apple Pay) and discourage the use of cash to protect your staff wherever possible. You may want to increase your “contactless” limit with your merchant processor but remember that you are liable for any potential chargebacks on “contactless” payments.
Minimize Any Processes that Require Touch such as loyalty programs that require a tablet. Print out a QR code or signage for your web site and encourage users to sign up on their own phones.
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.
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.
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.
Limit Stock Quantities for any essential household and medical products to avoid stock outs.
Not all emergencies are external. There are a number of internal risks within a company, many of which aren’t any less significant to the survival of a business than, for example, a natural disaster. You’ll want to work with workplace safety experts if your workplace involves food, hazardous materials or any type of production but for most of us in retail, cash flow, reputation and operations crises are usually top-of-mind for small business owners.
Cash Flow is the Lifeblood of a Business
I’m not the first business owner to say that timing is everything when running a business. During good times, this can refer to being in the right place when unusual opportunities present themselves. During bad times, this refers to whether you are financially in a position to survive when there is an interruption to the business. And more often than not, retail crisis management refers to your cash flow position because you need to have access to liquidity or credit to be able to get through an unusually slow period – you can’t sell hard assets quickly or for a good price in the middle of a crisis. So yes, while a natural disaster is completely unexpected and is out of anybody’s control, what you can control is the position you are in when disaster strikes.
I’m certainly not trying to preach about the virtues of keeping unused cash in the bank (assuming there is even any) instead of reinvesting in the business, etc. But if you haven’t already, you may want to get approved for a line of credit only for emergencies when the business is booming or you have the opportunity to. The key is to get credit when you don’t need it and to not use these emergency resources for any daily operations. Yes, hindsight is 50-50, and this won’t help you if you’re already dealing with an emergency but history does repeat itself so can better prepare yourself for the future.
Operations Resilience Planning
Operations covers many different parts of a business. It’s not possible to list every area a business owner or manager can review but, by and large, most retailers should always have some sort of plan in place for:
Succession or delegation if management is incapacitated
Data loss or privacy breaches
Supply chain breakdown
1) Management Incapacitation
Nobody ever wants to think about a scenario in which they aren’t around. But the fact is, if you are a small business owner, you are likely an employer and others depend on you for their livelihood. You can plan for every possible risk but if you cannot issue payroll, approve payments or make important decisions when they need to be made, you’re exposing your business to extra risk. Make sure you have a contingency plan in place for your own responsibilities including who is authorized to access company bank accounts during an emergency. Speak to your accountant or lawyer to learn more about the options.
2) Data Loss or Privacy Breaches
Just as many people rely on smartphones to remember all of their contacts, the data you use to run and track your business is irreplaceable. In a retail business, this usually refers to your POS data. Not only is the information stored in your POS system critical to your business decisions (e.g. how much product to order based on sales, etc.), it’s also a legal requirement in most countries to both collect sales taxes and report profitability.
Not only do natural disasters damage physical structures like storefronts and warehouses, they can also lead to a loss of important company files and data. Environmental disasters aside, as a business, you are also exposed to ransomware or database hacks on a daily basis. Luckily data security is definitely something you can more affordably control now in the age of cloud computing. It doesn’t matter what type of technology you use in your business operations. Don’t take a chance with unexpected damages or hardware failure with your business data. Store it in the cloud, or better yet, use a cloud POS system so that you can run your business from anywhere. After all, even if your data is secure, you need access to your POS system and other retail management tools to be able to continue operating.
With GDPR in Europe and ever more privacy regulations everywhere around the world, it’s important for small businesses to start on the process of developing and implementing a privacy strategy to protect their reputation with customers. There’s no point stressing out over the fact that you may have missed certain regulatory deadlines. Regulators and customers everywhere would rather see that a company has a plan and is working on improving rather than giving up or saying “it doesn’t apply to me.” For some basic steps you can take to get started on how to better manage privacy in your small business, you can refer to this blog post.
3) Supply Chain Breakdown
If just one link in a retailer’s supply chain is broken, it can have a significant impact on business operations and profit. Which is why retailers need to be able to react quickly to unexpected supply chain events – whether it is a natural disaster, supplier failure, political or labour strife.
While there is no way to prevent these events from taking place, there are measures you can take internally to minimize the impact of such disruptions and be better prepared including:
Retail Crisis Management is Risk Management
Having total supply chain visibility involves looking at possible environmental, social, and political risks. Identify possible “what-if” scenarios – what happens if a supplier is facing a weather disruption and loses power? Do you have an alternative source? What if there are transportation delays? What if political events drive up prices of raw materials? These “what-if” scenarios are numerous and may seem unlikely to occur in the first place. But it’s important to know what that list looks like first so that you can start to develop contingency plans to have more options when an unexpected crisis does take place.
Look at manufacturing and distribution coverage
Depending on the size of your business, broaden your connections by reaching out to suppliers in different networks and regions. Seeking out alternate suppliers in different locations will help you re-route orders if one of your suppliers is negatively impacted by an external event.
Unexpected issues and events can arise when inventory is being transported to and from distribution centers. For instance, merchandise can be stolen, delays can occur, and weather disruptions can cause damage to roads and transport routes. To prepare for these risks, it’s important to have transport flexibility. In other words, if one avenue of delivery is disrupted, ensure that you have the capability to switch and depend on another logistics channel. If instead, you opt to go for a third-party logistic provider, it’s a good idea to ensure that they can also provide the same kind of flexibility.
Remember that changes in lead times with suppliers during a major disaster will likely change the speed and cost of transport you will need. Do a cost analysis of what your business can afford to spend to get products to you and make sure you have the credit or cash flow necessary to fund the upgrades. During an emergency, you may need to consider foregoing profits or even taking a loss simply to keep enough revenue flowing through the business to cover fixed overhead costs.
Brand reputation and reputation management are critical to a retailer’s success. In fact, a report done by Total Retail shows that 90% of shoppers have chosen not to purchase from a company because of its bad reputation. Which is why consumers are increasingly relying on reviews to determine the quality of a business.
But, certain circumstances can arise that can quickly impact the viability and perception of your brand – e.g. a distraught employee publicly telling off a customer, poor management of health risks, etc. – creating distrust amongst consumers, and so on.
Help your retail business build a reputable brand and better prepare for compromising situations:
1) Be transparent about company policies and preventative procedures
In the case of an external crisis, consumers start distrusting businesses. Under these circumstances, it’s best to get ahead of the situation by reassuring employees, suppliers, partners and shoppers that you are taking preventative action or being as proactive as you can. During the recent coronavirus pandemic, StichFix made sure that members were aware of the rigorous cleaning process their clothing goes through between rentals to minimize any fears customers had about the cleanliness of renting clothes.
2) Manage negative reviews promptly
Gathering customer reviews is one of the best ways to make a good impression on a potential shopper. And even if you receive negative feedback, remember that it’s normal (and more realistic) for companies to receive a few bad reviews, just as long as you respond promptly and clearly show to customers that you are taking action. To learn more about customer review management and how to respond to reviews, click here.
3) Clearly communicate staff expectations
Setting clear company expectations with every new employee will pay off in the future when you’re trying to contain a potential public relations emergency. You may not be comfortable with the unconventional employee handbook Telsa gives its employees but the point is that you can’t expect employees to know what you expect without giving them some guidelines. Depending on the size of your business, it shouldn’t be an extensive document but it’s worth those late nights or legal fees to get one prepared since you will be sharing it repeatedly in your company. And, of course, communication doesn’t stop with orientation or handbooks. Part of retail crisis management is clearly communicating with employees and setting a good example during and after any crisis. There’s no better way for senior management to walk the talk.
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