While the coronavirus pandemic is not officially over, and new strains of the coronavirus have been creating additional challenges for the United States and other countries, we have now entered a new phase in which businesses are back up and running and individuals across the country are becoming more and more comfortable returning to their favorite pre-pandemic stores, restaurants, gyms, salons, and more. This raises an important question for small businesses: how can small businesses get customers to return to their business?
Hopefully, throughout the course of the lockdown phase of the pandemic, your business tried to stay active on social media and keep your customer base engaged with the company in unique and innovative ways (or, if you operate a restaurant, for example, hopefully, you kept customers coming back via takeout). If you were successful in doing this, then you will have a huge leg up, since your customers will still have your business on their minds. However, if you did not, there are still ways you can reestablish your business’ relevance and get customers walking back through the door once again! In this post, we’ll cover some of the best ways you can do this.
Follow COVID-19 Guidelines
One of the best ways you can get customers to return to your business is to stay up to date with the latest CDC COVID guidelines. This is important because it can help make your customers, both current customers and new customers, feel comfortable and safe at your place of business. This means having your employees wear masks and face coverings in accordance with state and local guidelines, keeping protective equipment and other installations up until you are given the ok to remove them, offering hand sanitizer at checkout counters, and maintaining proper social distancing precautions when needed. Obviously, guidelines vary based on the state you are in and the severity of the virus in your local community, so the best way to handle this is to be proactive and stay informed.
If you are a restaurant, one thing we highly recommend is continuing to offer curbside pickup, even if your business did not traditionally offer such an option pre-pandemic. The new normal is that people love takeout – and they are willing to still go to their favorite restaurants even if that means having to get food to go. This does not mean that you should not emphasize the quality of your indoor dining experience – you still want customers to come for sit-down meals. However, many individuals in our society, especially those with pre-existing conditions and with other health risks, still cannot return to any sort of normalcy. Not only can offering takeout allow these people to patronize your establishment, and as such create an additional source of revenue for your restaurant, but it lets them and others know that you care. Running a small business is all about building a good reputation in your local community through proper messaging, outreach, and service – this is just another way to help bolster your business’ reputation as a valued community establishment.
Communicate with Customers Through Proper Messaging
Keeping your customers informed is a critical component of running a small business. If your customers don’t know the status of your business, it will be hard for them to know how they can still visit your establishment.
Messaging with customers takes place across multiple channels and you have to be on the top of your game, especially in a time like this. For example, if you have new hours of operation, send out an email to your mailing list, update the hours on Google (nobody likes to show up to a store and find out they are closed because their new hours are different), adjust your website, and send out a message on social media (and make sure to keep your communications consistent across accounts – i.e. if you send out one message on LinkedIn, make sure it is the same as what you are communicating on Instagram and Facebook).
Further, make sure you communicate the safety precautions you are taking now that you are open once again. It’s great to take added safety measures, but if your customers don’t know that you are taking those measures some of them might not be comfortable coming to your store. Let them know you are open again, operating as usual, and are invested in their well-being!
We live in an age of technology, and one of the best ways to get customers to come back is to make it easier than ever for them to access your services and visit your business. For example, if you are a salon that has traditionally always done appointments over the phone, consider using an online booking tool. The same goes for restaurants; if you typically have done reservations via the phone, consider OpenTable. Also, consider offering your food via UberEats and DoorDash.
If you are a retailer, maybe it is time to start thinking about opening an e-commerce shop or selling your products on Amazon. To get customers to come back, you don’t necessarily need them to walk through the door. Giving them new ways to access your products and shop at your store can make a huge difference. Remember, new revenue streams can come from anywhere, and expanding the number of people your business can sell its products to is almost never a bad idea!
Given that many people are still uncomfortable with visiting stores in person, try to think about innovative ways you might be able to ease their discomfort. For example, consider ways you can provide low-touch or no-touch shopping alternatives. Maybe that means having a mobile checkout option in your store, where customers pay via their phone. Offering drive-up shopping options isn’t just limited to restaurants either. Retailers can offer curbside pickup and bring purchases out to customers. Any way you can embrace innovation can make a real difference for your business!
Try to Address the Supply Chain Issue Sooner Rather than Later
In order to sell products to your pre-pandemic customers, you must have those products in the first place. This has become increasingly hard for small businesses on account of the supply chain issues and the fact that massive, nationwide businesses like Walmart take precedence over small businesses in getting products.
As such, try to address the supply chain issue sooner rather than later for your small business. Sure, you might have a healthy amount of inventory leftover from when you had to shut down your business during the pandemic, however, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking toward the future when you may need to order more products. Addressing these issues sooner rather than later is critical.
If you are currently dealing with supply chain issues, try to think outside the box about how you can deal with them. Be flexible and try pursuing alternatives, such as offering new products that are currently available or limiting the number of each item each customer can purchase.
This is where messaging again becomes important. Your customers are fully aware of all the strange things taking place during these times. If you are suffering from supply chain-related issues, let them know. Tell them what your expectations are regarding when things will be in stock and apologize for the inconvenience. Let them know that you are working overtime to fix the problem and assure them that it is only a temporary issue. The most important thing is to be transparent. If you don’t expect items to ship in time to make it to your customers by Christmas, for example, let them know upfront before they order. You don’t want to incur a customer’s wrath because they ordered something on December 18 thinking there was plenty of time to receive it by December 25. If you simply let them know upfront it may not make it in time, they will be able to make an informed decision about whether they still want to purchase the item. This will make things easier for them and you.
Offer Exclusive and Limited-Time Discounts When Possible
One way to get customers back through the door is to offer exclusive discounts on certain days to those customers willing to journey out and return to your store once again. Indeed, this is one of the best ways to incentivize customers to return.
In particular, consider targeting specific kinds of customers. For example, maybe you can run a new promotion only for healthcare workers and other individuals who have served on the front lines during the pandemic. Not only will this attract customers to come to your store, but it shows your community that you appreciate all these people have done over the last few months. If you do run these sorts of specials, be sure to communicate them across your various social media accounts and on your website.
That said, if you are going to start running promotions, be careful. With the current inflation and the rising price levels, make sure your business can afford any discounts you run. Plus, with the supply chain issues, you don’t want to be simply giving away items for prices far less than you actually deserve. So, be deliberate and thoughtful when pricing your products.
Double Down on Digital Marketing
Americans are spending more time than ever before on the internet, checking their emails, and staring into their laptop screens. Especially with the remote work options that many employees now have, people are spending more time than ever before engaged with their devices. The result is that they are interacting with their email and online advertisements at extraordinarily high levels. As such, there is no time like the present for small business owners to double down on digital marketing.
So, how can you improve your digital marketing? For one, try to build an active presence on social media. Think about what you can post about your business to build a following. For example, if you are a boutique clothing store, consider posting about the latest arrivals and any specials you may be offering. You can also provide exclusive discount codes via social media or other platforms.
If you have access to your prior customers’ emails, begin running email marketing campaigns. Or, if you have access to their phone numbers, consider SMS marketing options. Any way you can reach out to your customers directly in a manner that ensures they will see your communications in a timely manner can make a huge difference.
We live in a digital world in which there are all sorts of tools businesses can use to reach their customers. Make sure you are staying up with the times and actively trying to innovate.
Team Up and Join Forces with Other Small Businesses in Your Community!
One of the best ways to reach new and old customers is to join forces with other small businesses in your community. There are all sorts of ways this can be done. A simple way is just to post advertisements on the doors of each business, highlighting certain specials. However, there are more nuanced and sophisticated ways to do this as well.
For example, maybe you operate a candy store. Consider teaming up with a florist to offer special package discounts that customers can take advantage of. Or maybe you operate a restaurant and there is a nearby ice cream parlor that makes great ice cream. Consider offering desserts with their ice that they get a kick-back from – in return, have them provide their customers with a stub for a discount at your restaurant with each ice cream purchase.
There are all sorts of fun and innovative ways you can join forces with local businesses in your community, and it can make a huge difference. So, don’t hesitate to reach out to other small business owners. They are in the same boat as you and are probably also concerned with how they can incentivize all their old customers to return during this new phase of the pandemic.
Reward Loyal Customers
While it is important to get your old customers to return to your business, it is also important to keep your current customers returning as well. As such, you should consider rewarding the many customers that supported your business during the pandemic. For example, maybe you can offer a special discount for anyone that brings in a receipt to your business or can show proof of a purchase in the last two or three months.
In line with this, consider starting a loyalty rewards program. Any new incentives you can provide your customers to get them to return can make a real difference, and a loyalty rewards program is one of the best ways of doing this.
Set Clear Goals for Your Business
Every business was impacted in a slightly different way by the pandemic. And businesses continue to be impacted in different ways depending on where they are located, with different local and state governments addressing the public health crisis in different ways. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for getting customers to come back to your business.
The result is that businesses need to spend a great deal of time right now assessing where they currently stand and what their goals for the future are. Writing up an adjusted business plan, for example, can be a great idea for articulating and cementing exactly what it is you want to accomplish with your business in a post-COVID-19 world. Odds are your goals have shifted somewhat since the pandemic began – make sure you acknowledge this and adjust your business strategy accordingly.
While the pandemic is not over, keep thinking about what your plans are for the post-pandemic world. Not only will this help you stay positive, but it will ensure that when the time comes, your business will be able to return to normalcy with a plan of action.
While the world has not yet returned to its pre-COVID state of affairs, there is a lot to be optimistic about with businesses in many states now completely reopened and operating. However, with this comes new challenges, specifically getting old customers back through the door. While this isn’t always an easy task, taking the right approach can make a real difference. By utilizing some of these tips, as well as putting a lot of careful and considered thought into how you can best attract your customers once again (after all, nobody knows your customers better than you do!), you can put your business back on track.
At the Biz2Credit Blog, we work tirelessly to provide our viewers with the latest timely information on all things small business. This mission has never been more important than it is now with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and we take our role very seriously. So, please continue to check back here at our blog for the latest news and insights into the world of small business!