It’s been a tough month for retailers. Before the Covid-19 debacle, the pressure of ecommerce was already looming over most sectors of the retail industry. Digital companies, backed by millions and built for efficiency, were steadily expanding their presence in nearly every consumer market. Then, the coronavirus and its ripple effects came along and took many retailers out at the knees, all but shutting down sales and disrupting supply chains.
Strong-willed, savvy business owners are learning to adapt and are determined to weather the storm. However, just as there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel, rogue vandalism and looting connected to the otherwise peaceful protests provided one final kick to the groin as insurance is not covering the damage for many shop owners.
With the losses in revenue, unfavorable and unpredictable policies around social distancing, and a country experiencing economic and civil unrest, many retailers will not survive. Despite the recent blows and a generally negative 2020, there are still some great examples of retailers and entrepreneurs finding the silver lining.
Businesses that persevere will emerge from the uncertainty stronger, all while providing jobs and contributing to a desperately needed sense of community in the neighborhoods where they operate. At a time when many things are beyond our control, here are some examples of retailers making the best of a bad situation.
Broadway Restaurant Group’s popular South Boston restaurant Loco Taqueria and Oyster Bar is known for its creative marketing and strong local following (in addition to its tacos and margaritas).
Like many restaurants, Loco has shifted its focus to takeout and is preparing to expand its outdoor service in accordance with new policies as they look ahead to reopen dine-in services.
To expand their corona offerings, Loco created a walk-up window serving guacamole, salsa, beer and wine, coined the “Guac Up Window.” They also made a walk-up oyster bar window.
On May 5, Loco created and sold Cinco de Mayo boxes filled with tacos, chips and DIY margarita kits to hundreds of their loyal customers. These new offerings have been quite successful and may continue in a post-corona environment, proving limitations can inspire creativity that sticks.
Community & Creativity
The Broadway Restaurant Group has made an effort to support its staff during this time, raising thousands through contests, raffles, donations and tips to help support their unemployed restaurant workers.
Management also spent some extra hours creating a mural on one of their exterior walls, incorporating photos from the restaurants including staff and customers complete with artistic flair, adding some brightness to an otherwise bleak month.
“The retail businesses that survive will be able to balance efficiency and fun.”
Hanadi Hamzeh, Owner of Covet Boston
Customer Engagement & Expansion of Phygital
Both businesses and consumers have had more free time during quarantine, so some retailers are using it as an opportunity to create new forms of engagement with customers, often through social media.
Boston-based consignment store Covet has begun expanding its digital presence during the pandemic, both in the form of content and sales. Covet now creates videos on Instagram Live showing how to sort through and evaluate used clothing. Covet’s owner, Hanadi Hamzeh, believes her store is successful because her customers love “the thrill of the hunt” associated with used clothing shopping, where the inventory is always changing. The Instagram Live videos were requested by Covet’s followers and have developed quite a following because they scratch this itch for “the hunt.”
As Covet’s social media following has grown, they’ve begun selling items through simple Instagram posts and DMs, quick Venmo transactions, and curbside pick-ups. This has proven that digital channels are viable for Covet’s business and has inspired Hanadi to build a more formal Shopify website.
Wait times on orders from ecommerce companies like Amazon are now longer than ever due to supply chain and delivery complications, opening the door for localized ecommerce businesses to fill that demand and expand market share.
Companies like Covet who can blend the efficiency of a digital presence with the fun, experiential qualities of brick and mortar will have the advantage in customer engagement and overall satisfaction. According to Hanadi, “creativity is a key for surviving these uncertain times while also being flexible and experimenting with business tweaks to find opportunities amongst the turmoil.”
As technologies continue to evolve and popularize in the phygital space, there are more ways for retailers to stand out and engage with customers.
Some retailers are integrating smart displays for shoppers that provide curated user reviews on products right in the store. Others are engaging with customers through live-chat features on their websites to easily communicate and improve their online experience. A few retailers have bought into Amazon Go, the cashierless shopping technology that allows for automated checkout.
It is a challenge for retailers to know what trends and technologies are worth investing in. At both Loco and Covet, the owners have found that a consistent and authentic social media presence has led to a strong following; leveraging that following to proactively engage and listen to customers’ feedback may prove to be an extremely valuable way to guide decision-making.
With so many people feeling cooped up, having experiences to look forward to is as important as ever. Whether investing in phygital upgrades or adjusting offerings for the current environment, retailers have an opportunity to play an important role in shaping how and what we consume while providing positive hands-on experiences in an increasingly digital world.