How to rebuild brick and mortar
As many states continue to reopen, small businesses are looking to learn from the crisis to better engage customers in the years to come.
When the pandemic forced the closure of Jeff Moriarty’s small town jewelry store, the owners of the family immediately adopted a new digital strategy by launching a virtual gem show, a live exhibit showcasing new gems at great prices. reduced for viewers. The impact has been profound, allowing the business not only to stay afloat, but also to thrive. Moriarty credits virtual shows and a strong online storefront with an 80% increase in sales in 2020.
“We were so surprised at the quality of these shows,” said Moriarty, a digital marketer who helps his family’s store and many other small businesses in the Midwest. “We did them every two weeks. We upgraded to once a month after we opened, but kept going. “
Jewelry is not an outlier. While the pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for small businesses, many have retained and added customers over the past year using dramatic pivots. They engage customers on new platforms, use cutting edge technology to maintain sales, and connect with communities on key social issues. And now, as many states enter the recovery phase, many are looking to incorporate these strategies to continue to develop into the future.
“Small businesses are looking at how they’ve survived so far,” said Courtney Campbell of Campbell Creative, a South Florida-based brand agency. “They take this opportunity to look at what is working and decide what they want to continue as they enter a post-pandemic world.”
Once you go digital, you never look back
Maintaining a robust digital operation will be essential for brick-and-mortar stores looking to better engage customers in the future. But as social distancing restrictions loosen, experts say efforts online should not be focused on replacing an in-store experience, but rather increasing it. “The pandemic has certainly solidified the desire to do more online,” said Megan Flynn, owner of Megan Flynn Marketing, a marketing agency in Washington, DC, “but people also lack the ability to do things in person. . “
One effective tactic is targeted social media marketing, which can be a useful way to attract local customers who might not have found you otherwise. Moriarty, for example, attracted customers to its reopened gemstone store by announcing free ring cleaning via a social network to anyone within a square mile of the store. And as more people use their phones rather than their feet to find local stores, it’s more important than ever for small businesses to make the most of features like free online card listings, added. Moriarty.
Digital technology is also being used to make it more efficient for customers to find, buy and collect products. “Mainstreet retailers should prepare and deliver a very different shopping environment as consumers return to stores,” said Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group, a retail consulting firm. “Hybrid” processing methods such as online shopping, in-store pickup or curbside pickup will remain popular, Castelán predicts.
Meanwhile, revitalized QR code payment technology, such as PayPal’s, has transformed the payment process, enabling fast, contactless payment without the need to exchange a card or cash, or handle other materials. PayPal QR Codes allow customers to simply scan a QR code displayed at checkout with their phone to minimize contact with surfaces and people, which is paramount as customers continue to put their safety first. PayPal QR codes are already accepted in more than 600,000 points of sale and adoption will continue to accelerate as more merchants take advantage of them, not only for the peace of mind of their customers, but also for the results of their business. During PayPal’s fourth quarter 2020 earnings call in February, President and CEO Dan Schulman revealed that merchants were seeing double-digit increases in average cart size with customers who frequently use PayPal QR codes.
Self-payment and contactless payments create a more “transparent” and “efficient” checkout that “improves the customer experience,” Castelán said.
The value of values
Adopting technology isn’t the only tool small businesses can use to achieve lasting success. Another is the adoption of values. According to a recent survey, 71% of consumers prefer to buy from companies that stick to their principles. The extent to which small businesses have embraced this ethos was demonstrated during the pandemic, when many organizations chose to speak out on a range of social justice issues. Experts don’t expect this to change in the future.
“Small businesses have always been more engaged than large businesses because they are members of the community,” said Flynn. “Actions like donating or directing a portion of sales to a local community group or non-profit organization are ways to get people interested in an issue, but also in your business.”
In a post-pandemic environment, these values-based efforts can also include a simple commitment to safety. “For a lot of people, it’s really permanently changed the way they think about how many people they’re in contact with,” Flynn noted. Businesses can take these concerns seriously with simple steps like increasing their digital presence, adopting contactless payment options like PayPal QR codes, keeping doors and windows open, or redesigning. of their space, taking into account public health directives.
There is no doubt that even as the health crisis recedes, small businesses still face a series of challenges. Customer behavior – not to mention the trajectory of the pandemic – remains uncertain. But building on the engagement tactics that worked during the worst months of the crisis can lead to sustainable growth. And ultimately, these tactics boil down to the simple mandate of understanding customers at this unique moment.
“Look at your audience, figure out what makes them tick and tap into it,” Campbell said.