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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The Digital Clock Is Ticking. Time to Catch Up!

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. 

Consider these examples of virtual try-ons:

  • "Jewelry brand Kendra Scott adapted to pandemic-era shopping — and the temporary closure of its 108 stores — by allowing shoppers to “try on” earrings using their iPhone browsers.
  • "Etsy, the online marketplace, has a new augmented reality feature on its app that shows customers how paintings, photographs and other decor would look on their walls. 
  • "And Zeekit, which supplies augmented reality technology to brands such as Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger, is preparing to launch the world’s largest virtual fitting room, with hundreds of thousands of pants, tops and coats that shoppers can drag onto photos of themselves."

 

Or this: live, interactive shopping...on a smart phone app!

  • "Danielle Li believes the live-streaming e-commerce platform she founded, Popshop Live, has the potential to make e-commerce sites like Amazon look like the Stone Age of shopping.
  • "Jamie Rivadeneira, who owns two Los Angeles stores that were shut by the coronavirus pandemic, has seen the Popshop Live app revolutionize her business to the point where she’s asking herself if she still needs brick-and-mortar stores. 'It’s hard to go back now, because now we sell to 200 people instead of just selling to one person, with the same amount of effort,' she said." 3

 

How about making your brick-and-mortar space work for you 24/7

  • "When you own a brick and mortar business, one of the key marketing tools you can use is the storefront window displays. Reach out to customers without them even stepping inside with the use of giant QR codes, or interactive digital storefronts." 4

 

Meanwhile, trade associations are accelerating their adoption of technology as their ability to hold trade shows is shut down. Retailers will be exposed to much of this as they participate in "virtual trade shows."

  • "But with toy trade shows and in-person sales meetings cancelled for perhaps the rest of this year and possibly longer, toy companies have had to rewrite their sales playbooks.
  • Welcome to the virtual state of play, where toy manufacturers have to learn the new rules of selling remotely to their retail accounts, during a pandemic." 5

Our view on technology is that it never can replace human judgment. Indeed, we always have bristled at Amazon's stated intent to "replace the art of retailing with the science of retailing."  

Yet we believe all this bodes very well for independent retailers. 

  • There is an ever-larger role for technology to inform and enhance your decisions, as well as affecting the retail experience. 
  • Providers of this technology will soon realize there are far more independents than there are enterprise retailers, a large, underserved market. 
  • And we expect that some of them will want to offer these technologies on a subscription basis, potentially making it even more accessible. 

We encourage you to take advantage of this time to explore all this.

There is no future in being a technology laggard. Surely there are some tools here that would be right at home in your retail operation going forward. We urge you to find out. 

 


Stephanie Asymkos, Americans plan to spend more in these two areas as economy reopens. Yahoo Money, July 8, 2020. 

Virtual try-ons are replacing fitting rooms during the pandemic. Abba Bhattarai, The Washington Post, July 9, 2020. 

A Live-Streaming Challenger to Amazon, Facebook: Popshop Live Gives Small Stores a Lifeline. Joan Verdon, Forbes. July 8, 2020. 

Five Unique Ways to Decorate Your Storefront Window Display, Holly Kemp, Manta. June 29, 2020. 

A Socially Distant Toy Fair: Toy Makers Learn the New Rules of Virtual Play. Joan Verdon, Forbes, July 12, 2020. 



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