As regions across the country make the shift from the yellow to green phase, more and more small retailers are anticipating and finally experiencing their long-awaited reopening day. The excitement of seeing customers in-store is sure to be a morale—and revenue—boost, however there is more to reopening than setting up hand sanitizing stations and marking the direction of traffic for one-way aisles. Forward-thinking small retailers will focus here not just on reopening and regaining “normalcy,” but on leveraging the insights and opportunities of this unique time to realign their business in a way that fosters an even deeper connection with their customer base.
The following are key strategies that small retailers can use to harness the power and possibility of this pivotal time and turn their grand reopen into a benchmark for deepened and sustained customer loyalty.
Get reacquainted with your traditional customer base.
When you haven’t seen someone for a while, it can take time to reestablish that connection. But when world-changing events have occurred since you last saw someone, it takes more than just a “welcome back”—it takes the flexibility and honesty to evaluate who is really standing in front of you now and how any changes that took place affect the relationship.
The COVID-19 health crisis didn’t just change business; it changed people. Forward thinking small retailers will recognize that the only way to really reconnect with their customers is by taking a look at how they have changed in this time. For example, many consumers discovered over the course of the quarantine exactly how much they can do without. Knowing to what degree your customer base has embraced the trend towards minimalism can make all the difference in your choice of product and service offerings as well as the way that you market them.
Conversely, there are consumers who have turned to shopping as a way of dealing with the stress, fear, boredom, and isolation they may have experienced during the shutdown. Understanding what role emotional shopping now plays in the spending habits of your consumers can help you meet them on their level and offer them solutions that really add value to their lives.
Beyond the considerations of shifting emotional states, mindsets, and priorities, however, it’s also important to realize that your customers may be in a different place financially than they were before. Job loss and economic uncertainty have affected a record number of American consumers, though not to the same extent across all industries and regions. Knowing where your customers fall in this spectrum will help you to gear your reopening strategy to their current needs and capacities, rather than assuming that they will shop the same way and with the same dollar spend as they did historically.
Recognize your customer base may have shifted or expanded into new markets.
Small retailers exhibited an astounding degree of creativity, resilience, and resourcefulness in finding ways to stay afloat and serve customers even as their brick and mortar locations were closed. During this time, business owners adopted new marketing methods and new points of connection with their ideal audience, leading in many cases to new market penetration or growth within an existing market.
Consider for example a local clothing boutique whose owner rose to the challenge of a closed shop by shifting from 100% in-person shopping to 100% online shopping, adding e-commerce to the boutique’s website and establishing a regular routine of Facebook Lives for real-time sales events. These new strategies not only served the boutique’s existing customers but may well have reached consumers who would never have physically visited the store otherwise.
In evaluating your customers now, you may find that not only has the geography of your base shifted, but also the demographics. For example, your expansion into digital sales and marketing may have opened you up to a younger demographic already comfortable with the online experience.
Reconnecting in person, then, is based on knowing how your customers feel now, how they shop now, how much they can or are willing to spend now, where they are geographically, and who they are demographically.
Communicate with your customers regularly.
Connection doesn’t happen without communication. Most small retailers are aware of the need to communicate information like the date for reopening, the health and safety precautions that will be in place to protect employees and customers, and any guidelines customers will have to follow to shop in person, like wearing a mask. However, if your communication stops there, you are missing an opportunity to reconnect on a deeper level.
Communication should go beyond relaying factual information to actually creating a dialogue with your customers. This means that you are communicating not just what you are doing but why. Just as many individuals have used this time for self-reflection and a reevaluation of priorities, so too can businesses seize the opportunity to reconnect with their own core values and communicate them to their customers.
The defining characteristic of effective dialogue, however, is that it is a two-way exchange. This means not just talking to your customers but listening to them as well. Small retailers looking to develop strategies to reconnect with their customers can achieve this much more successfully if they ask for their feedback. This can be done preliminarily via survey, but once the store reopens, you can build in ongoing in-person feedback as well.
Small retail business owners have an unprecedented opportunity as they reopen to reconnect with long-time customers in a deeper way, solidify their relationship with newer customers, and achieve greater visibility and profitability as leaders in their communities and industries. This only happens however with careful forethought and an approach that combines critical thinking with flexibility. Your team of trusted business advisors, including your CPA or small business accountant, can help you navigate the uncharted waters of reopening post-pandemic, giving you and your business the broad vision and expertise needed to devise and implement a successful strategy for sustained growth.