The pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 across the world has caused huge economic effects in many industries. Among some of the hardest hit industries at this time are traditional brick and mortar retailers. Businesses that have relied on in-store sales up until this point are being suddenly forced to close their doors for an undetermined amount of time.
For those who already have e-commerce set up, this may not be a huge change to your business other than ensuring that your essential employees are practicing social distancing and strict cleaning procedures. For businesses who are not used to e-commerce sales, this is navigating through uncharted territory and can be scary. Either way, retailers are expected to see a loss in sales due to economic factors and rising unemployment.
Don’t panic, there are still ways to continue to generate revenue and promote customer engagement even if your brick and mortar location is closed. This is a time to connect with your local communities and give back to those who need help.
This brings us to our most important and time-sensitive suggestion:
Utilize Government Grants
Within the CARES act passed in the United States on March 27, 2020, there are several funding options that small businesses can take advantage of. One of these options is a Paycheck Protection loan that can cover your costs of payroll, rent, utilities and/or mortgage interest. This loan may be forgiven if it is correctly used according to the government guidelines.
If you need cash to pay your employees and operating costs, this loan is something you should research ASAP! Applications are already being accepted, so do not wait to talk to your bank (these loans will be given through private banks).
This program is available to businesses with less than 500 employees, select businesses with less than 1500 employees, and 501c(3) non-profit organizations with less than 500 workers. These loans may also be available to self-employed and freelance workers. The loans max out at $10 million per business with an interest rate of no more than 4%. No payments or interest will be collected for at least six months. For more information visit: www.sba.gov/coronavirus
Another important aspect of the CARES Act for small businesses is that it expands eligibility for the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs). In early March, the SBA’s disaster loan program was extended to all small businesses affected by COVID-19, but the CARES Act opens this program up further and makes it easier to apply. (Source).
If your small business is struggling to pay its employees and rent/utilities, utilize as much of this program as you can. We all want our local businesses to survive this period of distress, and the government help that is being offered can improve the chances of that happening.
Charge up Your E-Commerce
For businesses who don’t yet have an e-commerce system set up, there are a few website platforms that can make it easy and fast. To start, you must have a registered domain name (website address) and you should purchase an SSL certificate for your website to show that it is secure. Platforms like Shopify, Wix, and Squarespace, all offer intuitive and easy ways to build a website and webstore. You’ll probably want to use a basic template that you can customize to your liking.
To get your online store ready you will need:
- Registered domain website
- SSL certificate
- A high quality version of your logo
- All of your company’s contact information
- High-quality photos of your products (See our post on product photography)
- Product descriptions – make them informative and interesting!
- Payment options
- Shipping services
With this list checked off, you are ready to start selling online! There will be a learning curve when first developing an e-commerce website, but the most important thing is to communicate with your customers effectively and do your best to meet their needs and solve any issues that may arise.
If all of this website building seems too daunting or will cost too much money, try selling your products on Etsy instead. Etsy will charge a $0.20 listing fee and take a small commission from your sales, but you will not be required to pay for domain registration, SSL certificates, or template costs.
After all of this is said and done, make sure you can effectively ship your products to your customers. As we will mention next, offering free local pickup and delivery may be a smart option. But for customers farther away you will need shipping supplies to mail your packages.
Offer Local Delivery and Pickup
Offering local delivery is a great way to stay connected to your local community and loyal customers. For smaller retailers or restaurants who have mostly local customers, it may be a good idea to offer delivery services for free to your local customers. Alternatively, you could offer free same-day or next-day pickup for orders.
If you don’t normally sell your products online, you can use social media to advertise products for sale and then arrange for pickup and delivery through private messages or phone. Offering curbside pickup or front door drop-off service, where you don’t have to break social distance guidelines, is definitely the safest way to do business at this time.
Promote Gift Cards and Merchandise
Even if your retail store or restaurant is closed, you can still generate revenue by selling gift cards, branded merchandise, or other creative goods like care packages and gift boxes. You could offer a BOGO deal for gift cards where each $100 gift card purchase gets a free $20 gift card. Or you could curate specialty care packages, gift boxes, or other gift items for customers that want to treat themselves or send gifts to friends and family.
This can also be a great opportunity to give back to your community by offering matching donations to charity organizations that really need it at this time. For example, you could sell gift cards or branded t-shirts at their normal price, but pledge a donation for each item sold to a charity in need during this crisis.
Some retailers and restaurants are also offering staple grocery and household items for sale, because they are harder to find at normal stores (toilet paper anyone?). Many retailers have also started making reusable face masks to sell because traditional mask supplies are mainly going to healthcare workers. With new recommendations that everyone wears some kind of face covering in public, reusable masks will come in handy.
Staying connected with your community (without actual contact!) is going to be really important for small businesses to get through this time. Be sure to maintain your social media presence so you can hear what your customers are saying and pay attention to your fellow small businesses for ideas and actions. Always keep your website updated with opening hours, COVID-19 information, and ways that customers can still purchase from your business.
Many businesses are utilizing the power of social media and live streaming services to stay connected with their customers. Restaurants and bars are hosting virtual happy hours and Q and A’s. Retailers can live stream product showcases, interviews, fashion shows, and more. This is a great time to use your creative thinking to find new ways to keep in touch with your customers.
Send a Little Positivity
This situation has been difficult for many businesses and the people who work at them. Many are in need of help and support during this time. Remember to show some extra kindness to the people around you. Try including a positive or uplifting note or drawing with each order. Give shout-outs to your best employees and customers. Offer ideas for people to pass time in quarantine. We hope that everyone stays safe and healthy and that we can all get through this together!