Retailers are changing their businesses to meet demand and survive

Retailers are changing their businesses to meet demand and survive
Chris Goodfellow
Chris GoodfellowCEOInkwell

Posted: Thu 19th Mar 2020

The nation's independent retailers are moving quickly to make sure consumers can get the goods they need - and their businesses survive the coronavirus outbreak.

Retailers are at the forefront of the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, with consumers looking to stock up on key suppliers and starting to shy away from going into stores. Many face an uncertain future, but everyone's evolving rapidly to cope with the changing situation.

We spoke to online and high street retailers about the steps they've taken, from launching delivery services to using Pay it Forward.

High street retailers planning for alternatives

Bristol-based The Park Bakery's sales have increased by about 20% since the start of the outbreak.

"The last five working days have been some of the busiest ever," said owner Ellie Leam. "We get really busy on snow days and yesterday was very similar. Everyone was suddenly home and bored and wanting to get lunch."

Yesterday was the first day the team noticed people being more cautious about standing near each other or approaching the counter. Ellie and husband Matt, who run the business together, are planning a delivery service that will provide a counterweight when the walk-in trade begins to fall.

"We can't do a huge amount now as we're busy, but we can start to prepare," Ellie said. "If people have to stay at home, we can put our efforts into deliveries. It'll be my existing team, they'll be packing up orders, answering the phone and delivering them."

Another solution they're looking at is taking payments by phone and booking delivery slots, so customers who are worried spend a minimum amount of time in the store.

Selling vouchers to raise cash

Enterprise Nation has teamed up with Crowdfunder to offer small businesses a fee-free way to raise funding. Retailers sell vouchers, perks and even post-crisis hugs through the Pay it Forward campaign.

Three-year-old bar Henry C is offering rewards such as a Negroni cocktail kit and vouchers. The owners share their start-up story, the challenges they've faced and the amazing support from their customers.

"Joe and I are looking to crowdfund simply so that we can see through the next few months. It's the unknown for everyone so please only support us if your own business, job or financial state is secure," says the Crowdfunder page.

Henry C had raised £2,112 of a £2,000 target at the time of writing.

The Hug and Pint in Glasgow, Scotland, has raised £8,755 of a £30,000 target, with 333 patrons paying for recipe books and prints to entry to every gig for a year once the venue reopens - check out their campaign here.

Find out more about creating your own Crowdfunder campaign here.

Keeping your customers up to date

It's important to keep your customers up to date and small businesses have a great opportunity to rally the community spirit.

There are a number of points you can cover in your updates:

  • New services: Such as delivery options

  • Opening hours and precautions: What they can expect when they visit

  • Supply chain: Detail any impact to stock availability and reassure people as to what's happening

  • A call to arms: Many small businesses are struggling; ask for your customers' support and give them an opportunity to do so

"If you have a really good customer base, be honest with them," said Ellie. "I don't think anyone's that materialistic in the face of a crisis."

This is The Park Bakery's update from earlier in the week:

Taking advantage of increasing online sales

New Kings Coffee founder Jason Nichols said Amazon sales have increased by about 20% in the last few days. He's sending the online retailer more stock to ensure orders can be fulfilled.

"I've increased my Amazon ad spend because it's more competitive at the moment. The brands that are selling stuff people want, like food, are advertising a lot more. I've reduced the free shipping threshold too. That's a hit for me, but that's purely to make it easier for people to buy online," he said.

While spending more money on Amazon adverts is working, Jason is holding off on Facebook spend because people are on the site to find news about coronavirus.

Fulfilling online orders: Shipping and stock

Amazon is refusing to stock non-essential items in its warehouses until 5th April, limiting the options for retailers of non-essential goods. Sellers can still fulfil items themselves, but many rely on Amazon to handle deliveries.

Deliveries are going ahead as planned for the time being. Royal Mail's latest announcement references Public Health England advice, saying "people receiving parcels are not at risk of contracting the coronavirus".

"In order to protect both our people and customers as much as possible, we will not be handing over our hand-held devices to customers to capture signatures. Postmen and women will instead log the name of the person accepting the item," it adds.

Selling products to retailers

Jason's continued his efforts to get more independent retailers to stock New Kings Coffee. The reaction's mixed, with many not contemplating taking on new suppliers and thinking about closing temporarily.

"There's a few that have still been interested," he said. "I had a garden centre order coffee this morning because they don't know what's going to happen. They're due to reopen on the 1st April and think they're going to be busy because people are going to be desperate to get out and you can still be socially distanced there. The point of that is to look for the opportunities."

Chris Goodfellow
Chris GoodfellowCEOInkwell
Chris has over a decade of experience writing about small businesses and startups. He runs Inkwell, a content agency that helps companies that sell to small business owners grow their audiences through content marketing. You can find him on Twitter at @CPGoodfellow.

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