The Business Owner’s Retail Guide To Surviving The Coronavirus
The retail industry is facing massive, unprecedented closures as the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the country and state and city governments announce “shelter in place” orders. In much of the United States, the only type of retail stores that remain open are superstores and “essential retail” stores that sell food, medicine, or other life-sustaining goods. While business is thriving for major retailers, such as Costco, Walmart, and Amazon, small retailers are bearing the full brunt of this crisis. In this article, we want to be informative about the effects on retail, but we won’t stop there — we will also give actionable steps to help your retail store survive and even stay profitable during the outbreak.
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The retail sector has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as much of the industry is deemed “nonessential” — though states have some leeway in how they define what is and what isn’t essential retail. In a growing number of states, residents have been advised to shelter in place and only leave the house to buy food or medicine. Even in regions without strict shelter-in-place orders, many governors and mayors have called for the closure of nonessential retail businesses. As COVID-19 cases continue to mount, most or all of the United States may soon be under such orders.
This grave situation requires the closure of a large portion of small retail businesses, though it is still possible to sell online. In fact, eCommerce sales are expected to surge in 2020 as consumers stock up on essentials, such as food, healthcare items, cleaning products, household items, and even consumer electronics to stay entertained while at home.
Generally, the following types of stores are considered essential retail and can remain open for in-person sales:
- Grocery stores
- Liquor stores (depending on the state)
- Healthcare supply stores
- Marijuana dispensaries (depending on the state)
- Convenience stores
- Farmer’s markets
- Superstores (Walmart, Target, Costco, etc.)
- Gas stations
- Drug stores/pharmacies
- Hardware and home improvement stores
- Office supply stores
- Pet stores
- Telecommunications stores
- Auto parts stores
Pretty much all other types of retail stores are considered nonessential retail and have been forced to close in many states and cities. As follows are some examples of nonessential retail businesses (though this list is certainly not comprehensive):
- Clothing and shoe stores
- Hobby and craft stores
- Furniture stores
- Jewelry stores
- Cosmetic stores
- Book stores
- Sporting goods stores
Of course, you’ll need to check with your local authorities to find out if your retail store must close or if it can remain open.
Some retailers may find their goods in high demand, while others may be in less-popular industries and will have to get more creative about how they run their business. As mentioned, essential goods — soap, food, cleaning products, and, of course, toilet paper — are seeing record-high demand. Many nonessential retail goods, such as clothing and fashion, are expected to be harder hit.
Social distancing is being mandated by a lot of states, so even if your store remains open (at least, for the time being), social distancing will affect foot traffic and people’s desire to go shopping. In some cases, stores are limiting how many people can enter the premises at the same time to allow for adequate social distancing.
Increase In Online Shopping & Deliveries
Because of social distancing, there has been an upsurge in online shopping and an increased need for curbside pickup or delivery options. Especially as Amazon Prime shipping times increase — Prime delivery times on some items are now as long as a month — this may result in higher demand for smaller retail businesses that offer online sales, as these businesses may be able to provide a level of service that big-box stores are unable to offer right now.
10 Tips To Keep Your Retail Business Strong During COVID-19
If your retail business can adapt to these strange new times, you have the potential to keep it going strong throughout this crisis.
Create An Online Store
If your retail store is strictly brick and mortar, now is a great time to add an online store. Plus, there are many easy eCommerce platforms out there to get a site up and running quickly. Retailers should also promote their online buying and shipping options for their store (if you’re still open), especially on social media and via email marketing. Learn more about how to start an online store by checking out the resources listed below.
- The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
- What The Coronavirus Means For eCommerce & What Your Business Can Do About It
- Shopping Cart Comparison
Offer Personal Shoppers
There are a couple of ways your business can use personal shoppers to deliver products to customers without them having to enter your store. The first way is for your employees to act as personal shoppers for customers by taking their orders online or over the phone and personally delivering them. The second way is to use a third-party delivery service, such as Shipt or Instacart. Note that third-party delivery services may charge a fee and only deliver for certain industries.
Add Curbside Pickup
In addition to or instead of delivery services, it may make sense for your retail business to offer a curbside pickup option for those who don’t want to go out to shop. Customers order online, choose a “pick up in-store” option, and when they arrive at the store, an employee comes out and delivers the order. Some big-name retail stores that have implemented curbside pickup options include Target, DICK’s Sporting Goods, Books-a-Million, and DSW.
Create Subscription Boxes
Subscription boxes are a great way to supplement income and increase brand awareness. Mail may be one of the few ways people can still buy (nonessential) things in the near-term, and subscription boxes will likely become even more popular as consumers remain more or less stuck at home. Plus, subscriptions can help your business guarantee regular monthly income.
Appeal To Consumer Needs
As shoppers are encouraged to self-isolate and practice social distancing, think about what your business can offer during this difficult time. For example, art stores can provide drawing kits for kids home from school; gyms can provide online workout recordings; travel companies can offer discounts for planning 2021 vacations; landscaping businesses can build indoor garden starter kits; beauty stores can offer sample boxes or at-home spa kits.
Host Virtual Events
For retailers that have strong communities, consider hosting virtual events on Facebook or another online video platform. For example, board game stores can host virtual competitions; bookstores can create a weekly book club discussion (and customers can pay for that book to be shipped to them); cooking supply stores can offer weekly bakeoffs or demonstrations (and customers can buy kits with the tools and ingredients they’ll need).
Get Creative With Marketing
Even in these trying times, you can still market your business and the products and specials your retail business is offering. You can grab customers’ attention using email, text, and social media — while appealing to consumer needs and respecting social distancing guidelines. Read up on what other small and large brands are doing and start thinking about what you can offer that no one else is. Even if you’re brand-new to email marketing, now is a great time to start.
- How To Create A Successful Email Marketing Strategy
- Simple Email Marketing Best Practices Every Merchant Should Know
Communicate With Customers
Be clear with customers about your hours and how you’re handling the virus in general. Even if you have to close your business, it’s good to let people know, and if you are able to reopen your shop, make sure you tell customers about that too. Let your fans know if you’re offering curbside pickup, deliveries, subscription boxes, a percentage of your sales donated to a charity to fight COVID, or anything else. Again, you can use email marketing for this purpose.
In addition to trying to create sales, another huge part of successful cash flow management and managing a financially strong business is limiting unnecessary expenses. Sadly, this may mean cutting your payroll or closing locations. You might also consider reducing your interest costs by consolidating all of your outstanding debt into one low-interest loan and putting any new business expenses on a 0% APR credit card.
- How To Use (& How To Avoid Using) Business Credit During The Coronavirus Pandemic
- Consolidating Small Business Debt: A Complete Guide
- 0% APR Credit Card Offers: The Complete Guide
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Some businesses might just need a helping hand to get through this rough patch instead of closing down altogether. A couple of examples of how you could obtain assistance include starting a business crowdfunding campaign or applying for an SBA Disaster Loan. Refer to the list below for resources on financial assistance and loans — many loans are 0% interest right now.
- Small Business Loan Resources & Guides For Businesses Affected By The Coronavirus
- What SBA Disaster Loans Are & How To Qualify For One
- Can’t Make Your Credit Card Payments Due To The Coronavirus? These Credit Card Issuers Are Offering Assistance
- The Fed Has Cut Interest Rates To A 12-Year Low: Here’s What It Could Mean For Your Business
If your brick-and-mortar retail store is open in any capacity, you need to educate yourself and your employees about how coronavirus is spread. Then, you can provide helpful tips on how to keep the virus from spreading to employees and customers in a store environment.
Encourage Good Health & Hygiene
Educate your employees and enforce proper hygiene practices to ensure they follow the necessary health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of disease. This includes both cleaning and employee health practices. Specifically, make sure you are following the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Revisit Sick Leave Policies
Make sure you and your employees understand your store’s sick leave policy. Update the policy if needed and help employees feel stable in their income so that they can stay home if need be. To prepare for a probable increase in employee absences, you might consider cross-training employees so that your store can continue to operate even if key employees are not present. Again, you can find advice on employee sick leave policies in the CDC’s official COVID-19 guidance for businesses.
Have Clear Communication
People are understandably worried. Customers and employees want to know what you as a business owner are doing to keep them safe, so be sure to communicate clearly about the measures your business is taking and help ease those fears. You should help employees, in particular, feel safe and hopeful during this time, maybe consider giving your employees a way to give back or options to hold their job if they choose not to come to work right now.
Keep Calm & Sell On
This is a tough time for the retail industry, for America, and the world overall. Nevertheless, you will make it through this; we all will. By exercising patience, diligence, and ingenuity, retailers can keep their business safe, operational, and even profitable during these unprecedented — but temporary — times. Again, eCommerce will play an especially vital role for retailers in the age of social distancing and beyond. While brick-and-mortar retail will likely not disappear entirely, now is the perfect time to augment your online sales options.
Do you want to read more about how small businesses can manage during the coronavirus pandemic? Refer to our hub dedicated to this subject: Coronavirus (COVID-19).