If pivoting were an Olympic sport, small retailers would be well-positioned to bring home the gold. Over the past several months of responding to the global health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing regulations regarding the operation of brick and mortar stores, retailers have pivoted, punted, and pirouetted to create new and meaningful ways to connect with their customers—and remain viable and profitable as businesses.
And they’ve succeeded.
If you own or operate a small retail store, chances are you’ve found ways to reinvent yourself. You’ve established a platform for selling online, whether through social media, a marketplace like Amazon or Etsy, an auction-based site like eBay, or through your own e-commerce site. You’ve chosen a method of distribution, sifting your way through the choices of third-party distributors, delivery services, or handling fulfillment in-house. You’ve connected with your audience online, and you’ve found ways to convert foot traffic to digital traffic.
So what happens now?
While the exact timing and pace of reopening businesses is still to be determined and will vary from region to region, one thing is certain:
It won’t be the same. At least not for a really long time.
And that means that what might have originated as a stop-gap measure in reaction to an emergency is now an opportunity to create proactive and lasting avenues of connection and revenue for retailers.
Growing in the new business normal
So how can small retailers leverage this time as an opportunity for long-term growth in customer loyalty and profitability? The following are key points to keep in mind:
- Put the customer first: Keep your customer at the heart of your innovations. Let their needs and preferences guide you as you continue to adapt. Remember that you are not just trying to find ways to continue to carry on with businesses, but trying to find the ways to carry on that resonate with your customer base.
- How do you know what your customers want? The best way to determine this is to combine objective data—analyzing consumer trends, shopping habits, customer behaviors, data on what methods return the greatest response, etc.—with human intelligence. Ask your customers what works for them. Ask them how they like to shop. What would make their online shopping experience easier? How do they most like to have products delivered? When you ask your customers to give their input, you aren’t the only one gaining valuable information; your customers also learn that you care about their needs and preferences, and that their satisfaction matters to you.
- Communicate: Keep your customers informed about their options, any upcoming changes, and the things you are doing to put their health and well-being front and center. Communicate with them frequently and openly. This serves the dual purpose of making sure they know what’s going on, and building the kind of trusting relationship that is the foundation of brand loyalty.
- Continue to innovate: The power of innovation is that it is not static. As health, regulatory, and economic conditions continue to evolve, so too must the strategies business owners adopt to maintain viability and thrive. Be willing to embrace agility as an essential business skill, and continually evaluate the efficacy of your business model and sales strategies to identify areas that can be further developed.
- Recognize a good thing when you see it: You may never have planned to focus so much effort on your online presence, but now that you have, you may be surprised by the response you’re getting from customers. Even these storm clouds of uncertainty have silver linings. Look for the silver linings in your business, and expand on them. Whatever good has come from this experience—whether it is finding another avenue for customers to connect with you, realizing that you can host one heck of a Zoom meeting, or figuring out a more cost-effective way to deliver products—build on it, and know that it can continue to serve you even as restrictions begin to ease.
- Take advantage of your resources: As mentioned in previous articles, the CARES Act has created several avenues for relief for small businesses, including the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP). The Small Business Association (SBA) has recently released new guidance on PPP loan forgiveness to help business owners understand and maximize the forgiveness of PPP loans. If you haven’t already done so, talk to your CPA or small business accountant about applying for the PPP or one of the several other SBA loans available.
As a small retailer, you’ve risen to this unprecedented challenge with unparalleled ingenuity and compassion. Those qualities will continue to serve you as you serve your customers, now and in the future. For questions about how to access the resources available to you or how to move forward in a way that best aligns with your goals, reach out to your small business CPA firm today.