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How to retain customers during coronavirus

24th Mar 2020
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Over the last few weeks, the COVID-19 situation has rapidly unfolded around the world and continues to evolve on a daily basis. The uncertainty it’s causing has led consumers to panic, and left supermarket shelves empty.

So, how is coronavirus affecting brick-and-mortar businesses, both now and in the long run? First and foremost, it means that strengthening relationships with your customers is more crucial than ever before.

Despite social distancing and self-isolation measures being in place, there are numerous ways for businesses to stay connected with their customers during this unprecedented time. Even small independent businesses with little or no online presence can quickly adapt to the current situation and continue to cater for their customers’ needs.

Here are a few tips for how brick-and-mortar businesses can retain customers during the coronavirus outbreak.

1. Allow your customers to shop from home

Obviously, each specific business’s ability to do this depends on what products and/or services it provides – a hair salon can’t exactly sell its services online (although I’ll mention some alternative tips for these kinds of businesses a little later in this article).

Most brands that sell physical products, however, can shift online basically overnight. Chinese cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan proved this when it had to close 40% of its shops due to the initial outbreak in Wuhan earlier this year.

The cosmetics company was quick to engage its customers digitally and push online sales, resulting in a whopping 200% rise in sales from the same period last year.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea of shifting online – it’s easier than you might think, and there are companies that can assist with the entire process.

2. Keep communicating with your customers

At times like this, communication is more important than ever. While consumers are panicking about supplies right now, most reasonable people can still empathise with the difficult situation business owners find themselves in at the moment.

The more you can keep customers in the loop in regards to changing opening hours, store policies, health and safety measures or temporary closures, the better. The best tools for this are your website, social media pages and email newsletters (if possible).

If your business facilitates online shopping and delivery, it’s crucial that you broadcast this information to as many of your customers as possible. Offer clear instructions on how they can shop with you online, and perhaps consider a digital loyalty app as a means for making the process as convenient and straightforward for home shoppers as possible.

3. Keep your online content positive and reassuring

When you do communicate with your customers digitally via your website, social media, e-newsletter, loyalty app or other means, be sure to keep it positive.

There is no shortage of negative information clogging up people’s newsfeeds right now, and while it’s essential to stay informed, some light-hearted content goes a long way at a time like this.

4. Make it easy for customers to continue supporting your business

Remember earlier when I mentioned service-based businesses like hair salons and restaurants? While it isn’t feasible for these kinds of businesses to shift online (although restaurants are well-positioned to utilise delivery services), gift certificates can help keep revenue ticking over at a time when no customers are physically walking through the doors.

People are still celebrating birthdays and other milestones during this time, and vouchers are a very logical gift. Not only does it allow consumers to continue supporting their local businesses without exposing themselves to the risk of infection, but it gives the recipient something to look forward to once quarantine measures are relaxed.

5. Utilise delivery services to their full potential

As I mentioned above, restaurants and cafes can ramp up their home delivery services to keep up with demand.

App-based delivery platforms like GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates have already announced they are temporarily deferring all marketing commissions or subscription payments for the time being, making it easier for small businesses to continue utilising their services throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

While it might seem counterintuitive to waive delivery fees at a time when business isn’t booming, this can be enough of an incentive for consumers to order your food and keep you in business. Chipotle Mexican Grill isn’t charging for delivery until at least the end of March, as well as packing all orders in tamper-proof bags for customers’ health and safety.

Have a brainstorm about what kind of initiatives you could temporarily incorporate into your business model to encourage people to purchase your products for home delivery.

6. Adjust your product offering to meet current demand

Who says you need to stick to selling what you normally sell? Many businesses are adjusting their product offerings to sell things they don’t usually sell; specifically, essential items like pasta, milk, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and so on.

For example, numerous gin distilleries have announced they’ve started producing hand sanitizing products, and a Melbourne fish and chip restaurant has transformed itself into a pop-up shop for essential groceries that have become increasingly difficult to find in supermarkets city-wide.

While this is a trying time for businesses and consumers alike, it will pass. Be creative, be innovative and be adaptable, and your business will weather the storm.

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