Prospering in the New Normal
by Kate Claypoole
“Plans to give you hope and a future.”
This Scripture reference is stamped on 80% of your display product during May and June each retail season. This season, the secret for Christian retailers is to embrace it. Right now are unprecedented and unpredictable times, and moving into a “new normal” can be full of opportunities to expand your service.
You must have a positive attitude to serve those your business touches. Your employees and customers are as anxious as you are; however, a positive attitude infused into a personal, fun and extraordinary shopping experience is fundamental for a bright retail future. “Ask and Answer” retail is over. Your customers want exceptional shopping experiences, whether on the phone, curbside, through drop ship or delivery, in a virtual environment or while maintaining the current state safety requirements in your store.
Be mindful that there has been a breach of trust concerning public spaces, and your store is no exception. Implement safety measures that everyone can see, and have fun with it. Bedazzled disinfectant bottles, neon green cleaning gloves for the new cleaning routine or branded face masks for you and your staff are fun and memorable. Speaking of, scheduled cleanings, employees wearing masks or masks for customers also demonstrate that you care, thus decreasing shoppers’ anxiety.
Make serving, not sales your number one priority right now. Here are three suggestions for creating a personal and fun service and shopping experience in the current marketplace:
1. Stay positive while at work, all the time. Find someone outside of work to share your cares and anxiety with. At work, stay positive with your employees and customers.
2. Experiment. Be innovative. Challenge yourself to use new methods of communication and selling platforms. Customers are more forgiving than you think. Try new techniques, even if you are not comfortable. If you make the customer’s experience personal, fun and unforgettable, you will be rewarded for your efforts and discomfort.
3. Keep the mindset of a start-up business, even if you have been in business for years. Throw out the hourly/daily matrix and be realistic concerning sales expectations. Be thankful and celebrate each sale, while being aware that for the post-COVID season, sales may be a fraction of what they were.
Focusing on these three objectives will help you meet the unusual challenges and opportunities of opening or reopening.
In addition, communication with your customers and community is vital. Over the next weeks and months, your hours of operations, services and safety measures will change frequently. Keep your business’s information current: post signs in your store, on your storefront, on your website and social media accounts, and update your voice mail, ensuring the public has accurate information about your business. Have you registered on Google My Business? Have you implemented a weekly email letter or post-sale follow-up plan? If you have not been collecting customer contact information, start now!
A weekly email letter is a great opportunity to mix service and selling. Sharing community needs, news and activities and associating those events with products you have available is an easy marketing technique. This type of service marketing is relevant now and into the future. For example, you can share that registration has started for a Zoom Bible study and that the workbooks are available for shipping or pickup at your store. If you plan to use a marketing tool like this, be sure that whatever you plan—weekly, monthly, daily—you do it and do it on time.
Many Christian retailers have introduced creative purchasing techniques during the recent COVID shutdown. Curbside pickup and delivery seem to be the most popular. Even as we are being given the green light to open for full operations, consider keeping and adding other personal services. Make these services part of your experimenting and make them fun. Moses making deliveries on Mondays or Larry the Cucumber showing up at the minivan curbside would be something to talk about. Get creative! Think about all five senses as you plan, reducing touch for a while. Make shopping with you a fun and surprising experience. Make purchasing from you personal.
Follow up on sales, particularly those that happen over the phone or online. When appropriate, make a phone call or consider sending a thank you note to follow up on transactions. A branded thank you note included in all purchases also makes a nice personal touch. A fun and surprising way to thank a customer for a sale, and even suggest add-on products, is with video email. There are free apps like VioTalk or application services like www.vidyard.com and www.bombbomb.com.
Try a Facebook Live event. Resources like “The Ridiculously Awesome Guide to Facebook Live” on www.wordstream.com/blog and other tutorials are available with a simple internet search. The more you plan and practice, the more comfortable you will get. You can always delete the event if it really is a disaster. These types of events are personal, can be fun and can have surprising results for retailers.
The amount of new merchandise will be in limited supply during the next cycles, possibly through the end of the year. An easy way to make your store look fresh to customers is to re-merchandise. If possible, move every section. You and your staff will even see the same product in a new light. Only put the must-go products on clearance. Do not promote a whole store sale for reopening. This type of sale will only cause a sense of concern and panic about your business with customers and your community. Focus on your service, and make shopping with your business personal, fun and surprising.
As a small independent business, slogans like “Shop Local” may get a few customers in your door. However, your service, the relationships you build and the shopping experiences you create are what will set you apart from every other retailer. This is what will build your sales. I am positive that you can thrive in the new normal, because I know that there are “plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” CRA