The Challenge of Retail Sales During Corona Virus Fears
As widespread panic and fears arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak continues to rattle the global economy and have repercussions on almost all industry verticals in the United States, the retail industry has also not been spared of its grave economic implications. Small businesses in the retail sector too have started witnessing its consequences in a big way. Things may have started to look dismal given the coronavirus pandemic but interesting prospects are thrown up for small and medium-sized retailers amid the grim scenario.
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How to make retail sales during coronavirus fears
Even in the face of global economic disruptions amid coronavirus-related lockdowns, experts believe that there are potentially beneficial business opportunities for small businesses engaged in the production, distribution and retailing of essential supplies of household staples, including food, medicine, health & hygiene products and so on. Below we share significant tips on how small businesses in the retail sector can not only cope steadily with the rising apprehensions but can also focus on how to drive optimum retail sales during the coronavirus fears. Read below on how small retailers can adapt and bring about significant changes to drive sales.
Changes Needed to Drive Customer Sales
Amid the increased caution on people’s movement to grocery stores and public spaces, small businesses and brick-and-mortar retail sector, which comprises over 85% of US retail sales, are required to bring in crucial operational changes. They need to ensure the absolute safety and hygiene of their customers and ease the fears of shoppers dropping in their stores and relying on them for their essential supplies. Here are a few changes they can introduce to drive up the sales and boost the revenues despite the alarming global economic situation brought on by the pandemic.
- Make sanitation changes – Small retail stores need to ramp up their cleaning efforts and keep their floors and shelves clean and orderly at all times. Precautionary measures as directed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) need to be followed thoroughly to protect employees, support staff and even customers to stay safe as the coronavirus spreads. Retailers need to employ more cleaning staff now than ever to ensure that the shelves, floors, bathrooms, payment booths, and any other exposed surfaces such as lockers, cupboards and so on are wiped at regular intervals with disinfectants and sanitizers. The presence of well-trained cleaning staff and installation of hand sanitizer booths in stores will further allay fears of customers coming in and will also please health & hygiene authorities by showing their compliance with stricter checks and guidelines that have been put in place to fight the coronavirus crisis from getting out of hand.
- Communicate to employees and customers about hygiene practices they need to follow when at your retail store– Prioritize the safety and well-being of employees and customers to boost your retail sales during coronavirus concerns. In line with the priorities brought about by the changing times, draw upon relevant communication messages promoting the importance of maintaining healthy hygiene practices amid this pandemic. Closely monitor the COVID-19/Coronavirus situation and also keep a team ready to draft messages to be floated on internal as well as external communication channels of your retail portal. Provide employees with proper health education and health updates from the World Health Organization (WHO) to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Support the staff in explaining hygiene practices to customers as well. Request customers and support staff to wear face masks at all times and to avoid touching doors, lockers, lifts, buttons, and products without the use of hand sanitizer. Ask ill employees not to report to work and also consider offering comprehensive benefits to employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or someone following self-isolation as sought by a public health authority.
- Make delivery and pickup an option – With cases of the novel coronavirus on the rise, people are only turning to businesses with the option of home delivery or pickup. A lot of people are resorting to e-commerce giants such as Walmart and Amazon for ordering their groceries and household supplies. Small businesses in the retail sector too can follow them and engage in fresh delivery services to benefit from the escalated demand for supplies at this critical time. Promoting the use of omni-channel commerce, like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPUS) will help small retailers get more customers who want to shop in-store but avoid huge crowds. Startups and businesses in the grocery delivery services can provide the option of same-day delivery and also temporarily prioritize shipping and restocking only high-demand, household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand cleaning supplies and products such as toilet paper, sanitizers, masks, disinfectants and so on coming into their warehouses and fulfillment centers. In the wake of rising coronavirus fears, some startups and digitally operating market platforms are letting shoppers choose the stores from where they want to buy. Costco, Fred Meyer, Metropolitan Market Options, Safeway, PCC Community Markets, QFC are among some of the major and local grocery stores included in the list.
- Setting up senior shopping hours amid coronavirus fears – Extreme situation often calls for extreme measures and even when taking bold measures, small retailers can show how much they are aware of the challenges faced by consumer community and are accordingly strategizing company policies and initiatives to prioritize the needs of their valuable customers. In some countries, retail giants such as Walmart, Target, Dollar General and Wholefoods are setting in separate shopping hours dedicated just for the older customers. Following in the footsteps of these giants, small retailers can also give their elderly customers the first crack at buying essentials and products that have been a little difficult to find because of panic shopping. In times like these when elderly people are the most susceptible to the infection, taking actions for the senior-citizen shoppers would go a long way in winning loyal customers and proving their seriousness in doing something responsible for the society
- Strengthen digital selling platforms – With the US government urging people to limit physical movements and imposing home quarantines within some major metropolitan areas, consumers are making more spending on essential supplies on online platforms. A recent survey by a data and predictive retail analytic company found that retailers are witnessing gains in the shoppers’ digital marketplace purchases over the last week. The study further shows that both the U.S.-based retailers having brick-and-mortar presence as well as e-commerce channels have witnessed an online revenue growth rate of 52% between the last week of January till the last week of February— the period when the illness began its rapid spread outside of Wuhan, China to other parts of the world. With US consumers driving to do their shopping on digital platforms, small retailers and startups need to boost their e-commerce infrastructure and shift their day-to-day shopping to digital channels to push up sales.
- Provide a clear, no-hassle return policy – Although handling returns of items can be a bit of a problem and also prove to be a drain on resources for small businesses, having a no-hassle return policy can also be the key to driving sales and providing satisfactory customer shopping experience amid the new coronavirus scares. While big retailers, who have the resources, can absorb the cost of processing return, such may not be the case for small retailers. Still having a clear, concise return and refund policy will win more customers for small stores and also prompt them to shop again from there.
- Provide social media sales – Small retailers certainly have a lot to benefit from by using social media, especially in uncertain and critical times such as these when there is a growing need for remote interactions. Create a compelling social media customer journey and engaging with customers at every point of the social media sales cycle is something that small business retailers have to do to witness record profits. Having a presence on most trending social media channels and updating customers about their new discounts, deals, and offers for household staples will give small retailers an edge in the competitive marketplace. Bolstering the use of social media channels would not only provide a short-term boost to sellers, but it may also increase sales in the longer term if the new users continue shopping online from small retailers even after the outbreak subsides.
- Team up with social media influencers – In these seemingly uncertain times, the best influencers for small retailers to fall back on for spreading a word about their brand or company is their loyal customers and social media influencers. The increased usage of internet and uptick in social media browsing presents an opportunity for small retailers to spread a word of mouth promotion for their business. Tap the active customers and engage those in the loyalty program list to write their customer experience story on social media to influence other buyers. Build real connections with real customers and request them to write reviews about their customer experience in their stores or digital marketplace to add more to the existing customer base.
- Introduce Gift cards – Like the big retailers, small ones can also give out gift cards or certificates to customers to let them shop from them at a later date. Gift cards help local businesses to earn loyalty and see revenues go up. Merchants offering gift cards would encourage a customer to spend more than the average amount as given by the gift card. This will also create a list of loyal and repeat customers. Moreover, small retailers are more likely to be exposed to new customers through gift cards. In response to the recent outbreak, going for cashless payment adoption by small retailers will also be a great thing to help both businesses and also consumers as this would limit the coronavirus spread through microorganisms on cash. Moreover, availing the cashless payment option would save people from queuing up outside ATMs and other cash dispensaries.
The demand for indispensables – food, medicines, and grocery, health & hygiene products, household staples among others has escalated because of the rising health & lockdown concerns. People in New York and other prominent cities of the US are making a beeline and stocking up indispensable, household staples to weather the difficult climate brought on by the coronavirus outbreak. Resultantly, many small retailers are at present grappling with new kinds of challenges – that of meeting the escalating demand for dispensable supplies. Prioritizing only the stocking and selling of household staples at such critical times over the luxury, dispensable goods is crucial for small retailers to focus its energies more on creating a better sale and inventory management strategies for these products.
With coronavirus cases being on the upswing and more and more people practicing social distancing, small retailers in the retail sector have to place the safety and health of consumers much above everything else. In line with the rising health concerns, they need to undertake precautionary measures and allay all fears of their customers. Though the whole economic outlook may seem grim but utilizing these grave times to focus on building strong customer relationships, strengthening supply chain management, exercising innovative and smart sales strategy and by practicing resilience, the small retailer can tap the potentially lucrative opportunities lurking behind the dark clouds cast by the pandemic.