Coronavirus and the Retail Industry: The Impact for Online Sales
First and foremost- we hope that everyone is doing as well as they can be, given the current circumstances. These past several weeks have been a trying time and is leaving us with a lot of uncertainty, especially for the retail industry. As more and more states are shifting to shelter in place environments to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, more and more retail stores are being forced to close their doors.
There are some exceptions to this; and that would be our essential retailers. At Celerant, we have seen some segments of retail- such as personal care and apothecary, food & beverage, pet food stores, hardware and building supply, the sportsman industry, and even educational toy retailers– busier now than ever.
But for those retail businesses who are non-essential – or for those who might be but have still made the difficult decision to close their doors for the interest of their employees and/or customers- it is time to get creative and start looking at new ways to reach and continue to interact with your customers as a retailer weathering Coronavirus. Now more than ever, retailers are relying on omnichannel services to keep their stores afloat.
Are you already selling online?
The first and most obvious question would be, are you selling online? Many retailers are already selling online, but there are still many that are not. Many of those retailers might have been considering the shift to online sales for a long time, and now might be wishing they had done so earlier. If you have not already launched your eCommerce site, there are ways you can quickly launch your site to still be able to reach your customers.
Launching an eCommerce website faster than ever before
Based on our experience, the bottleneck in launching an eCommerce site is typically getting all of the necessary product images, descriptions, and the data prepped in order to build out the site in its entirety. This is usually due to two reasons; (1) the retailer doesn’t have the time to dedicate to this project and (2) it can be difficult to get all of the product images and product data needed in order to do this successfully. But there are faster and much more efficient ways to do this by importing all of this data directly from your vendors into your eCommerce site. Through vendor or distributor integrations, there are ways to quickly pull products, including product descriptions and images, from your vendors, to display and sell on your website. By skipping all of the manual and labor intensive steps, retailers can launch an eCommerce site in a fraction of the time. Additionally, many of these vendors not only make their product available, but they are also capable of drop shipping these online orders directly to your consumers, on your behalf, as long as your eCommerce provider supports this.
During this challenging time, many eCommerce providers are working closely with brick and mortar retailers to launch websites faster than ever before, in an effort to help. At Celerant, we have shifted a portion of our internal focus so that we can dedicate more resources to help create pre-built website department structures, and help our retail clients create and build-out their eCommerce sites as quickly as possible. By removing the manual labor and having our technical team take on more of the effort on behalf of the retailer, we have been able to launch eCommerce sites in a fraction of the time; helping our retailers get online faster to combat the struggles caused by Coronavirus.
Thinking outside the box
For those retailers who are already online, now is the time to think outside the box and come up with more creative ways to reach and service your customers. We have seen an influx of our retail clients offering buy online, pick up in store- or pick up curbside– or even offer contactless delivery. While delivery was once unique to restaurants and now grocery stores, some retailers are giving this a try to help get their products to their local customers with same day, contactless delivery left at the front door. Other retailers are even promoting “truck and back-seat” pick-up of orders, where orders can be completed online, consumers drive to the store, and an associate will deliver the order directly to the customer’s trunk or back-seat.
For those retailers already using mobile payment processing, curb-side and/or drive through pick-ups can be offered without even having an eCommerce website. We have seen our pharmacy retailers expand their existing drive-thru services to now include essential items beyond just prescriptions. Regardless of your approach, showing your customers that you are being nimble and offering new ways to service them, will, in itself, make an impact on their impression of your retail business- whether they chose to take advantage of your offering now or not. And, of course, these types of contactless retail transactions will help to fight the spread of the coronavirus; keeping both your store associates and customers safe.
Communication with your consumers is key
As we have always been told, communication is key, and that is especially true during difficult times. As more and more people are home, eager to engage with people while home with their spouses and children, there is also a huge increase in social media and online browsing. It’s not often that your consumers are idle and sitting in front of their computers (and Netflix), hungry for interactions and engagement. While some retail businesses are at a standstill and don’t know what to do, successful retailers are using this time wisely by continuing to stay in front of their customers. Use social media to help you continue to speak to your customers even while they might not visiting your stores. Whether it be promoting your products and using paid advertising on social media platforms, or simply being more active by increasing your social posts, photos and memes; all of these efforts will enable you to interact and engage with your customers, while keeping your community alive. Email marketing can be another great way to reach your customers and continue to interact, whether you have an eCommerce site or not. Additionally, use your emails to encourage your customers to join your social network, so that you can continue to stay top of mind through this pandemic and beyond.
This too shall pass
The bottom line is that this will eventually pass, and hopefully sooner rather than later. The retail industry was already changing at a rapid pace, and this pandemic will only escalate that further. The coming months might be rocky, but staying in front of your customers and keeping the engagement (and hopefully sales) going, will only help your business that much more when things go back to normal- or whatever the new normal will become.