Independent Retailers and the COVID-19 Crisis

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Since March 2, 2020, The ROI's Co-Founders have been offering insights, strategic approaches, and online resources for independent retailers affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

These appeared first in The ROI NEWS.

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Have you noticed? "Covid fatigue" has been spreading lately. It seems to be almost as contagious as the virus itself. Ugh!

And small wonder. Even as parts of the economy strive to re-open, they only remind us of how different everything is.
  • Major League Baseball played in stadiums of cardboard cutouts of fans. The U.S. Open Golf Tournament with no spectators. Professional basketball teams in "the bubble" at Disney World. 
  • And some colleges preparing to resume fall classes have been described as "a cross between a seminary and a minimum-security prison."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress cannot agree on what should be done next. A nasty election campaign season looms. Protests are still happening in many locations. 

Remember this: all these things that contribute to our Covid fatigue, what we have called the "Pandemic Trifecta of 2020" – the virus, the economic meltdown, the national protests – all of these are uncontrollables. We all are victims of all three pandemics. 

But, you CAN control what you choose to do with your business going forward. Will you choose Door A, Door B or Door C? 

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That's a sign of the times, isn't it?

While retailers are more accustomed than most folks to cope with change, 2020's unrelenting flexibility tests have been a challenge. Forget about five years. Retailers have to be ready for the next five months! It's back-to-school and then Holiday.

The only certainty about the next five months is that they will probably feel like the past five months. Yet you still must run a retail business. And that means you still must buy and sell merchandise. 

The opportunities – and the pressures – are mounting.

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Yes, we know. Owning a retail business these days is one flexibility test after another. And there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. 

In the United States, one of the most widespread impacts of the virus is uncertainty. With no end in sight. It is the virus that is in charge. As the president of Alaska Airlines noted, "We don't know what the future looks like."*

But the fact remains, whomever is selling to the ultimate consumer has leverage. Might that be you?

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So, say you have re-opened your stores. Then what? Did the customers come back? 

Or, were many of those who did show up just there to say "Hello!" And "We missed you!", but not to buy? Sigh.

We are not surprised. And here's why.

 

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For retailers, the uncertainties caused by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are unrelenting. 

  • "'It seems that social distancing mandates won’t be the only thing keeping crowds down at businesses moving forward,' said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. 'A significant number of Americans plan to stay away on their own accord.'” 1

So, what should we do with this additional "found time," waiting for the customers? That's a question we CAN answer!

As you are sorting out how best to reopen, we encourage you to be bold about embracing technology. Not just a POS system upgrade with better e-commerce capability. There's much more that warrants your attention. 

There's a whole alphabet of resources out there, already being embraced by many: ML (machine learning); AI (artificial intelligence); AR (augmented reality), QR (Quick Response matrix barcodes). All enabling chatbots, robots, digital displays and much else to become "smarter" and more applicable. 

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Don't you feel that we're in a period of heightened uncertainty? 

Whether it's the economy, or unemployment, or grocery prices, or sports resuming, or the weather, or racial tensions, or the costs  of everything, or the questions coming at us from family and employees that we cannot answer, everything seems uncertain, doesn't it? And there is no end in sight.

But...we as retailers can be leaders in our communities and in our  daily lives. We have the opportunity to tamp down some of those uncertainties.

Look at this sign a local merchant posted.

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As your stores are able to re-open after the coronavirus shutdowns, how they look tells a powerful story. And for you, a great opportunity.

This is no time to try to go back to normal, back to business-as-usual. Nor to simply have all kinds of protective shields in your store. While necessary, how welcoming is that?

Instead, this actually IS a second chance to make a good first impression! Take full advantage!

There are three "pandemics" assailing us at the moment: the coronavirus; the economic collapse; the protests of racial injustice. The three months plus of stay at home restrictions and the shutdowns, and the confluence of these three pandemics has been a heavy burden. And it shows no signs of going away anytime soon.

As the coronavirus continues to spread and surge (Apple re-closing 11 stores they had recently re-opened is a sobering reminder), the uncertainty and anxiety is only being prolonged.

 

Since 1999, empowering retailers and store owners to "Turn on your financial headlights!"