It’s been interesting to watch how some businesses re-emerged from the lock down in China which preceded the US by a few months. Companies like Nike and Lululemon shut down all retail outlets during the lock down, and promoted online sales heavily. This strategy paid of nicely for Nike as its online sales surged by 30% in the quarter, with dramatic increases in engagement on its mobile fitness and ecommerce apps. Now that its retail stores are all open in China, that business is rebounding nicely. But what about the US Small Medium Business (SMB) market without a global brand and a sophisticated online infrastructure? What does the road map look like for Main Street?
Here are some strategies we recommend:
Don’t abandon your new online capabilities
SMB’s found new online capabilities were the only way to reach and serve customers in this lock down period. My local CPA firm, for example, developed all new processes: the ability to email invoices to customers (not kidding), accepting credit card payments securely, and updating its website with new payment options. Not until this pandemic closed off all in-person contact, did traditional businesses like these finally adopt online capacity. Don’t abandon these! Even though lock downs are gradually lifting, some customers may prefer to do businesses this way, either from sheer convenience or fear of infection. Who knows, you may have just unlocked new customer groups from your willingness to engage through technology.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
This was critical during the lock down, and should continue to be a priority. Over-communicate if you have to. Update your customers on your email list, Facebook, Instagram, Retail Signage, Postcards. Let them know when you are opening and under what standards of care. What precautions are you taking to make customers feel safe? Emphasize your cleaning routines, distancing, new staff procedures, and gear up. Understand that you may get a crush of customers and have a line out the door – especially if you’re a restaurant or hair salon – one of top survey responses of what consumers want after this lifts. Anticipate that and make accommodations. If you have a limited menu (products, services, hours available) because you are short-staffed, communicate that as well.
One of my favorite BBQ purveyors is running an online marketing clinic during lock down. Typically serving large crowds from a food truck, they nimbly switched to online order and curbside pick-up by appointment. A typical Instagram post would show 4-5 panels with a few mouth watering entree panels mixed with an instructional “How to Order” panel, and a promoted merchandise item. Several posts have been about their safety processes “we never touch your food”, and how much they miss seeing their customers in person. I fully expect them to continue their excellent communication pattern as we emerge from lock down.
Stay Flexible, as governments are still in “wait and see” mode
Flexibility has always been the cornerstone of SMB life, and will be important as we go forward. A recent study of 1,200 SMB’s by PYMNTS, shows that 62% of SMB’s say that they seek to open up and do business exactly like they did before, with 48.7% stating that they will keep up their online capabilities used during the lock down. I say consumers will have the final say. Millennials may love the online order process or the ease of pick-up you adopted. Some customers (initially) may only enter your store if they see signage about social distancing. Face masks? Gloves? State governments are being cautious and watching the data for a second wave of infection, so “flexibility” will be the key.
Thank your customers!
Everyone has had to adjust and it’s important to remember to thank your customers for sticking through this with you, as mistakes were made, phone lines gave busy signals (as phone in orders sky-rocketed), and we all figured out these difficult times. Supporting local businesses has certainly made me more aware of others and given a sense of community.