Brick and mortar stores face an extraordinary challenge. Ecommerce and digitally savvy brands have to pivot their message and strategy, but brick and mortar stores have to offer virtual solutions almost overnight.
The ability to think on your feet and problem-solve has always been essential in leading a successful business, especially in a fast-paced digital environment. But the rate of adaptation now required is unprecedented, and many brands are wondering how they can continue to serve their customers and communities, safely.
No one knows exactly what the permanent implications of COVID-19 are in terms of consumer behavior, but adapting to these changes will only diversify your business, create new opportunities for expansion, and increase brand authority during and after COVID-19.
So how can you pivot to accommodate demands for virtual service? How can you stay connected with your customers, and continue to garner their loyalty? Fortunately, technology enables businesses to continue serving and communicating from a safe distance. Let’s delve into 12 strategies brick and mortar businesses can employ to serve virtually.
Embrace Pick-Up and Delivery Options
While restaurants have been implementing pick-up and delivery options for years, COVID-19 has accelerated the necessity of this service. Dine-in restaurants around the globe were forced to close their doors, while drive through windows attracted crowds, and demand for delivery increased.
If restaurants want to stay in business, they have to embrace technology that allows them to offer contactless transactions, curbside pickup, and delivery.
Stay Golden, a combined restaurant, coffee shop, and bar in Nashville transitioned to setting up online ordering, and is now offering “survival packs” for their customers. This is a fun and innovative way to add value and stay in business. Survival packs include essentials like flour and toilet paper, as well as family-style meals and cocktails. What can your business offer right now that will serve people in their isolation?
Offer a Virtual Class
Creating valuable content for your target audience has always been a solid strategy, but your audience has never been as captivated as they are right now. They’re looking for content that’s informative, entertaining, and inspiring.
Lemon Laine, a brick and mortar beauty brand in the retail industry had to shut down its physical locations—but they continue to leverage Instagram and now offer their popular wellness classes online. They’ve also shifted to offering text-to-order options so customers can conveniently and safely order their much-needed beauty products.
Create a Unique Experience
Movie theaters have struggled to stay relevant for years now as video streaming services dominate the entertainment scene. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the movie theater industry was bracing to experience its worst year yet. Now that movie theaters have been forced to shutter all of their locations, it would seem impossible for them to continue doing business.
But creative thinking in challenging times can lead to extraordinary results. A local movie theater in Hayden, ID, partnered with a local company to have a screen painted on the side of their building—with plans to create a drive-in theater. Their first show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was featured on April 25th. Traditionally a cash-only theater, they set up mobile payment options, with concessions being delivered directly to customers’ cars.
With kids out of school and a demand for entertainment, they plan to show a movie every day of the week.
Promote Gift Cards
Many businesses are now offering gift cards or certificates for customers to purchase and use once their business is able to reopen. It’s a great way for customers to show support and invest in a future experience they can look forward to. You could even get creative and create your own line of currency that can later be redeemed.
Hideout, a bar and live-music venue, partnered with local artists to design “hideout bucks” that can be purchased online. People can use the hideout bucks as real money once the bar reopens, and if they feel like going to a bar—Hideout will likely be top of mind.
Leverage Social Media
Right now people are at home, and they’re online. If you already have an established presence on social media, try increasing your posting frequency to help keep your customers’ informed and uplifted.
Switzerland’s Tourist Board is leveraging social media in a time when the travel and tourism industries are struggling. They’re posting pictures and videos of Switzerland that are getting thousands of likes—using hashtags like #neverstopdreaming.
Your customers want to connect with you on the platforms they’re already on. So, find out where your target audience is spending their time, and reach out to them.
Post Relevant Content
Brands whose content doesn’t address the current pandemic will be seen as out-of-touch and unhelpful. Your current marketing strategy may need to be revised or updated to effectively reach and convert your audience. If you already invest in content marketing to generate leads, consider doubling down on the volume of content that you post.
Ensure that what you post is sincere, helpful, and relevant. In times of crisis, people search for leaders. Share what you’re doing to help your community, how your employees are staying safe, and tips on how to thrive amidst this pandemic from the perspective of your industry.
Engage Customers via Email
Right now, you don’t want customers wondering if you’re still in business. Email marketing, if done right, is not only extremely effective for nurturing leads and converting them into customers, it’s a great way to keep your current customer base engaged during this pandemic.
Sending out a quick email or a newsletter letting your customers know on which social channels they can engage with you (videos or photos are great to include), what services you’re still offering (and any special incentives), and what your business is doing to survive these trying times, can let your customers know you care and that you need their support.
Elizabeth, a Michelin-starred restaurant that had to act fast when they got orders to shut down, quickly sent out a newsletter announcing their new pick-up option and a full menu. They received so many orders that they sold out their first day. Every day they send out a new email with a fresh menu, along with a follow-up email announcing when they’ve sold out for the day.
Create a Lead Generation Tool
If you don’t have an email list and you need to capture new email addresses, consider creating a lead-generating PDF for your landing page. This could be an e-book, a short video series, or a helpful document. If you’re a stylist, this could be something like five tips on how to cut your hair from home. If you’re a musician who offers lessons, this could be 10 tips for keeping up on your practice from home, as well as a short instructional video.
Offer a Discount
If your brick and mortar store is newly accommodating online orders, ensure that your customers know they can shop online and continue to purchase their favorite products. Perhaps offer discounts for some of your most popular products—whatever you can do to encourage online shopping while people are at home.
Invest in Customer Service
Everyone could use a little gentleness right now, and customers won’t stand for brands that skimp on customer service. Customers are looking to brands to be transparent, helpful, and proactive in their communication. Convey pertinent information as soon as possible and alleviate concern quickly.
When you’re serving your customers, don’t forget about the importance of your existing customer base. Yes, new customers are important, but the survival of your business will largely depend on retaining the customers you already have. If you’re taking online orders, the ordering and return process (if applicable) should be as seamless as possible.
Invite a Special Guest
A great way to expand your reach is to bring on a special guest for an interview or an exclusive performance that would appeal to your audience. Invite someone who’s famous, or someone who’s an expert in your industry to add value to your customers’ lives. Streaming your event live can garner significant attention; post frequently up until your live event to build hype, and make sure that your guests are thoroughly informed and entertained.
Play the Long Game
Transitioning from an established brick and mortar store that serves customers face-to-face to ecommerce and virtual solutions can be challenging. There are a plethora of digital marketing, social media marketing, and PR solutions to help you navigate through the confusion and uncertainty, and a handful of technological solutions that can make your life easier.
In times of uncertainty you should take action—but it should be strategic action. If you simply don’t have the time to engage your customers online, create content and optimize your website, consider hiring a consultant who can expertly amplify your message and get you a great ROI. Investing in advertising has always been smart, but in an economic downturn, it’s necessary.