The MLive team is hearing first-hand how COVID-19 is changing how Michiganders are doing business, in some cases overnight. This blog series is a way for us to provide tips and support for questions you have and are facing for your business.

Today’s topic: Adjusting for a New Customer Journey in Retail

Last week, you were a brick and mortar store. This week, you are posting your products on Facebook and providing shipping or curbside pickup. You don’t have an e-commerce website—your business wasn’t planning to sell that way. You weren’t ready for this—we hear you. But what do you do right now to facilitate this change?

Think first about the inventory you have on hand. This inventory could be sold on free marketplace sites like Facebook Marketplace, posting once and noting available sizes or colors in a single post, maximizing your time. Remember that taking Instagram-style photos, using model photos provided by the manufacturer, or other more professional photos will create a greater sense of desirability. Are your goods handmade? Etsy could be an option. If you are a business that offers perishable goods, you may wish to consider gifting these to employees and their families, or others affected through local nonprofits.

Virtual Payment Options are also a concern. With apps like Venmo or CashApp, finding an inexpensive solution should be easy. If your business was already setup to take orders by phone and payments that way, terrific.

Use your existing feed on Facebook and Instagram to tell the story of your new marketplace. Boosting those posts will generate more exposure but considering a small investment in paid advertising on the site for a far better conversion opportunity. Need help? We can give you a quick Q and A, for free.

Sell Gift Certificates. Gift card purchases are an easy way to gain capital now that can be used to keep rent paid and utilities active. Consider reviewing your gift card deals used in December, when many businesses offered a bonus, if the customer reached a certain threshold. Panera Bread, for instance, offered a free $10 gift for anyone purchasing $100. In this way, you encourage more investment in a single purchase. Under normal circumstances, only about 80% of gift cards are redeemed, offering you one more reason to provide an incentive.

In-bound Inventory could be a concern. Have you committed to a vendor and are awaiting delivery of goods? You may have time and opportunity to postpone that shipment. Knowing all businesses are in this together, the promise of an order later is much better than a cancellation now, and many are waiving fees associated with rescheduling to preserve orders already in the system and entice customers not to fully cancel. It’s also possible you the opposite is true: your suppliers are short of goods you need. Checking in with suppliers by phone or video chat is always a good idea, and you’ll need to source new or additional suppliers if needed.

Consider matching gifts of your customers. Numerous restaurants and retailers are matching gifts made by their clientele to employees who are out of work due to the pandemic. By supporting these fundraising efforts, your employees will benefit, and your business will, too.

Create content. Shedd Aquarium that did week when they let the penguins roam free in the facility. Local restaurants did it when they donated food to an area shelter. Even NASA and the New York Public Library are in on it as they post about newly available materials at no charge. Organic content, crafted to inform or entertain, not sell something, is best.

And perhaps most important, concentrate on the “after all of this” plan. What will your grand re-opening look like? How will you celebrate your loyal customers that visit you during this downturn after its over? A little bit of optimism can truly go a long way.

We are all in this together. The MLive team is hearing first-hand how COVID-19 is rapidly changing how Michiganders are doing business. At MLive Media Group, we are working hard to adjust in light of the new needs we are hearing from our valued clients and others. This blog is one way we are responding. Have a particular need? Send us a note at marketing@mlive.com.

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