With the COVID-19 crisis closing doors to brick and mortar businesses, retail, wholesale, and even distribution businesses have shifted to an online business model — completely changing the way they do business.
Add in seasonality, supply chain delays, receiving inventory that you ordered more than six months ago, and more — it’s clear that running a retail business in 2020 is no small feat.
We’ve spoken to many retail professionals, from small business shop owners to wholesale shippers, and they’ve all expressed one common theme: if you cannot adapt, you will not survive.
But how do you know where to start or even where to go?
Constant Contact's focus is on helping small businesses be successful online. That’s why we recently held a Power Hour for Retail, bringing together industry professionals with our marketing experts to chat about how they have been able to power on this year.
While we have the marketing expertise to help you create a mobile-responsive retail website and make sure customers find your retail store online, we recognize that in times like this, sometimes there’s nothing more helpful than hearing directly from your peers.
In this recorded panel discussion, you’ll hear how three Constant Contact customers in the retail space have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our panel of real-world retail industry professionals will discuss:
- How COVID-19 has impacted their business
- The changes they have made to their online marketing
- How seasonality has added an additional layer to an already challenging year
- Why trying new things is important, even if it’s scary
4 must-see tips from our Retail Power Hour
1. Seasonality can be a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity
If your retail business is seasonal or heavily impacted by factors such as tourism, you likely already have a plan for how to adjust your marketing during an average year. But 2020 is certainly anything but average and you may be unsure of how to tackle both seasonality and reduced sales due to COVID–19.
For Nature’s Closet, January through March tends to be their slowest season. So, moving from a business lull and straight into a pandemic was quite the challenge. Instead of throwing in the towel, Amy and Co-Owner Beth decided to face their seasonality head-on. They offered “virtual shopping” sessions where Beth video chatted with customers to show them new inventory, as well a virtual bingo night with other businesses in their community. In short, they tried to make shopping with them fun at a time of great stress.
While Jim’s business is an entirely different type of retail operation, he also found that a downturn in tourism impacted their distribution business on Cape Cod. Whereas they’d usually be getting ready to provide restaurants along the Cape with paper goods to help serve hungry visitors, they found themselves having to adapt. They did so by pivoting to focus on take-out needs, such as individually wrapped cutlery, effectively taking what could be seen as a seasonal challenge and turning it into a new opportunity.
If your small business is being affected by both seasonality and the COVID crisis simultaneously, take a step back to think about what unique value you can provide customers with during this time.
2. Dropshipping can allow you to reach new customers with new products
Are you familiar with dropshipping? It’s a supply chain management method in which retailers do not keep products in stock, but rather provide the order information (such as shipment details) to the vendor, manufacturer, or wholesaler who will ship the order directly to the customer. In effect, it allows businesses to make sales without having to fulfill the orders themselves.
Dropshipping can be daunting to get into, but Amy found that it sort of fell in their lap! Nature’s Closet has been in business for 17 years. While Amy and Beth just took over the business in January of 2020 (what timing!), they still get to take advantage of the fantastic relationships the company has with their vendors.
Companies such as Patagonia were quick to offer Amy alternative options for payments and even dropshipping opportunities. This opened the door for Nature’s Closet to start offering products to their customers that they do not regularly stock and have them shipped to customers who may not be local, such as alumni of nearby Williams College.
While dropshipping may or may not be a plausible option for your business, this is a reminder that finding new ways to serve your customers during this time will show them that you’re willing to go the extra mile.
3. Go where your customers are
During this time, your customers may not be able to come to you. Whether your business is still closed, operating at a limited capacity, or fully opened, loyal customers will want to support your business from a distance.
So, are you showing up where they are spending their time? For Amy and Nature’s Closet, that’s on Instagram and in their inboxes. For Jim and Callico, it’s important to be on LinkedIn and — surprise — also in inboxes. Have we mentioned yet that email marketing is an excellent tool for staying in touch?
Callico is in a unique position, as they are a redistributor. As a result, their customers are not end-users, but rather other distributors. They are the middle of a supply chain and sell business-to-business (B2B). So, social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter likely aren’t the right fit for them. However, a more professional network like LinkedIn may allow them to reach distributors directly.
4. Your ability to adapt will make all the difference
Nearly everything described above touches on this, but 2020 is a year of adaptation. What worked for your business in the past may not be successful today. There are so many factors at play this year to take into consideration, but above all you need to be nimble.
“I think businesses who can [adapt] and take advantage of [the downtime to fix or improve on their business] are going to be the ones who come out of this on the other end.”
– Amy, Co-Owner of Nature’s Closet
There are many ways your retail business can adapt. If you have inventory that you haven’t been able to convert, consider repackaging it in a new way; for example, you can cross-merchandise a few items to bundle as a gift basket. Have last season’s stock sitting around? Hold a flash sale to help clear it out. And while impulse purchases may seem hard to achieve, as customers are no longer hanging out in the area around your POS in-store, you can still encourage customers to make an impulse buy using item listings on a checkout or receipt page of your website.
For Amy and Nature’s Closet, they’re using this time to consider how to incorporate sporting goods into their business. After all, everyone is wanting to get outside and find new ways to stay busy, especially as we inch closer to winter. What goes better with a pair of Patagonia snow pants than a brand new pair of snowshoes? Without remaining agile and well-versed in her customer’s needs, Amy could easily fall victim to treating 2020 as any other year for her business and losing potential sales as a result.
Overall, 2020 is a year to assess what has worked for you in the past but remain open to new opportunities for your business. Is there something that you’ve wanted to work on improving but haven’t had the time? Or maybe you have always wanted to complement your brick-and-mortar location with an ecommerce solution but never had quite the push to get you there. This year is giving you that push you need to pivot and try new things.
Meet our panelists
Jim Wagner - Marketing Manager at Callico