With much of the world beginning the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief as we finally look forward to a future not restricted by the deadly virus.
However, with the period between the first and second dose of the vaccination recently increasing to 12 weeks instead of 21 days, unfortunately, we still have a significant amount of time to wait before things can get back to normal.
For a small business owner, this means that your post-lockdown business strategy will have to be put on hold for the time being as lockdown measures continue until further notice.
So, if you're a brick & mortar retail business, what should you do in the meantime?
Well, over the past year, we've seen plenty of examples of small retail businesses maintaining their sales and even finding explosively successful new methods of revenue generation while the storefront doors remain shut.
In this article, we're going to list off the most successful, real-world-tested strategies for not only remaining stable during lockdowns, but potentially increasing the value of your offerings, customer experiences, and bottom line.
We'll first look at the one key objective you need to consider for your business' survival, followed by a set of actionable strategies to create new revenue streams.
How your store is affected by the pandemic
In creating a new set of temporary Covid-19 lockdown objectives, you must first assess how your store is affected by the pandemic.
Is your business considered essential, and thus can be allowed to remain open during lockdowns?
You can check the full list here, but common examples of businesses that can remain open include:
- Food retailers
- Off licenses
- Post offices
- Builders' merchants
- Vehicle and bicycle repair shops
Any store that provides goods or services outside of this 'essential' definition must close. If that includes your business, it's important to note that you are still allowed to offer delivery of goods as well as click-and-collect services.
If your retail business must close for lockdowns, what should you do?
As we will detail later, two key strategies can be applied to all businesses to mitigate the effects of lockdown.
Before considering those, though, there is one golden rule that we can't encourage you to follow enough in whatever strategy you choose.
Golden rule - focus on customer retention
The people who have consistently engaged with your business and have developed an affinity with your brand will be your most valuable assets during lockdowns.
Based on the emotional connection that you nurtured through engagements with existing customers, they will be more likely to support you during difficult times and more likely to respond positively to the new sales channels you create.
Additionally, at times when your business' cash flow is suppressed, it's potentially very risky to spend money on customer acquisition in traditional marketing – especially when customers who have already been successfully converted exist.
It can cost up to five times more to acquire new customers compared to retaining old ones, according to a Forrester business report.
So, whatever strategy you choose, make sure to orient your communications towards existing customers. By doing this, you are preserving cash flow at a critical time where revenue is negatively affected.
Strategies to keep your business open during lockdowns
From the real-life examples we've witnessed from business leaders over the past year, these two strategies stand out as the most successful routes to profitability during the global pandemic.
Establish an online sales channel
There are few businesses for whom creating an online ordering system is not feasible. Even service-dominant businesses like restaurants are finding ways to serve customers online.
Whether it's ordering for delivery, click-and-collect, or to initiate a service, customers are, at this point, completely comfortable with online transactions and exchanges.
For example, over half of young Americans surveyed have ordered food (restaurant meals or groceries) online, according to Pew research.
The Coronavirus has ushered in an already well-developed comfort and familiarity with online ordering across a wide variety of goods and services.
The challenge you will face is in creating the infrastructure to accept and process online orders and deciding on the method of fulfilment.
Fortunately, there are many cost-effective software tools that can give you ready-made inventory, ordering, and payment solutions at the click of a few buttons.
Shopify and Squarespace are examples of e-commerce website builders that are well suited to the non-technical user. For payment processing, Stripe, Square, and PayPal all have ready-made and custom solutions to easily accept payments online.
Additionally, it is now also possible to set up digital storefronts on commonly used social networks such as Instagram and Facebook.
Fine-dining restaurant Alinea successfully pivoted in the face of the first COVID-19 lockdowns last year by launching Alinea To Go, a focussed menu of ready-made meal boxes available for collection. They sold out of certain boxes in just 5 hours.
Diversify your offering
You might be thinking that other businesses can offer their goods or services online, but those that require physical presence like hairdressing, yoga instruction, or spas cannot.
Failing that, consider how you can still produce meaningful interactions with customers and the wider market online, through an authentic and informative content marketing strategy.
By monitoring the available consumer sales data, you can also identify potential opportunities for diversification in your products or services.
For example, it was noted that 17% Australians, 47% Chinese, and 47% Indians began stockpiling personal hygiene products at the beginning of the outbreak.
This led to some spas and skincare companies offering subscription boxes for beauty products to simulate a spa-like experience at home.
Spas could double-down on this by offering one-to-one video consultations for skin care needs, advice, and product recommendations for free or for a fee. The same can be said of hair care, fitness, and many other physical industries.
Failing delivery of physical products, creating engaging content using your unique industry expertise is a good way to develop your online presence and build trust and authority as you await the reopening of your store.
National lockdowns are still in place for much of the world, and there's no confirmed date as of yet when the restrictions will end.
As a retail business, you have to acknowledge the current situation and adapt as necessary, even if that means radically changing or diversifying your pre-Covid-19 lockdown business model.
As we have seen from many large and small businesses, the clearest path to survival lies in converting your operations to digital.
There are many low-cost tools to make this transition easy, and the best part of this strategy is that it does not lose relevance in the post-Covid world, effectively doubling your sales potential when stores can be opened again.
Failing that, consider how you can still produce meaningful interactions with customers and the wider market online, through authentic and informative digital marketing content creation.
And don't forget the golden rule – your existing customers are your most valuable customers, especially at a time like this.
The OMG solution
We know a thing or two about retaining customers in what we do.
We have developed a platform that can radically enhance your customer retention metrics through ingenious loyalty schemes, programs, and initiatives.
With no training or complicated software tools, you can begin developing highly meaningful customer experiences for your new online storefront, ready to carry over into supercharged in-store conversion when lockdowns are over.
See the full range of solutions over on our website, and don't forget to join the waiting list if you want a chance to benefit.