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  • Quynh Nguyen

COVID-19 Adaptation Tactics for Small Businesses

Small Businesses are being hit hard during these government-mandated closures. While some storefronts might not be deemed as an ‘essential business,’ they are still essential to the economy and our communities. The first step is communicating to your consumers how your business is responding to these times. Here are some strategies that will help small businesses mitigate lost revenue until the crisis is behind us.


Convert to Online

Go to where your consumers are now. If shifting to online retail for the first time, offer an incentive to drive consumers to your website.

Heavily relying on foot traffic, Seattle based bakery, Piroshky Piroshky, saw their sales plummet 90% once stay-at-home was mandated. Olga Sagan, the owner, quickly developed a website for Catch22 Delivery, which cuts out the third party delivery charges that many large food delivery services that require for restaurant owners. Currently, it has over 100 business on the platform and Sagan says her sales went from $200 in one week to $4000 in one day.


Other options include Shopify, an eCommerce vendor for Allbirds, Gymshark, PepsiCo, and Staples, which increased its free trial period to 90 days for small businesses that are transitioning to online selling. One more option is joining Facebook Marketplace to sell to your community.


Offer Gift Cards that Align with a Cause

One way to drive website sales is to use e-gift certifications that provide added value back to the customer. On top of that, associating with an organization that is directly contributing to the COVID response is another way that small businesses can mitigate the effects to their cash flows. E-gift certificates provide a way for consumers who are looking to make contributions to support those affected by COVID-19. By being associated with the goodwill, small businesses don’t need to be the ones directly contributing to the donations.

Park and Fifth, a bridal dress boutique in Vancouver, Canada, utilized gift card purchases as a way for consumers to donate as well as provide financial relief back to the consumers. Pledging to donate 5% of the gift cards to COVID relief, they incentivized customers further by increasing the value of the gift cards by 10% of the purchasing cost (ie. a $100 gift card will have a $110 value).

The methodology doesn't just apply to retail. Restaurants like the Lost & Found Bar in SF are also offering gift cards with deals to help provide immediate relief. “In the spirit of community and giving, we are now offering buy $50 get $10 so you can give the extra gift card to someone that might need it! Doing so gives us immediate income to help us and our staff through this tough time until we can reopen."


Be Unconventional

This is a time for small businesses to play to their strengths, whether its customer service or other. Online shoe seller Zappos has let its customers know that their customer service is willing to answer any question that they may have, whether it be regarding homework help, book and Netflix recommendations, or just being someone to talk to. The shift wasn’t hard for the call center as emergency response training is already implemented in their call service training and company culture fostered the employees to step up to the task.

Zeppelin Comics in Benicia, CA created "War Bonds"! A reference to the debt securities issued by the US government during WWI and WWII to support the economy. Located in a historically-significant city, this comic book store is incorporating a fun & vintage sensibility while leveraging community support.


Make it Virtual

With the help of live-streaming, events can still carry on while practicing social distancing.

Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin, Texas, which has been in business for over 10 years, has recently adapted to accepting phone orders and contactless trunk pick-ups as well as transitioned all their classes to Facebook Live due to this pandemic. Founder John Antonelli took this time as an opportunity to try something he’s been thinking about the past 5 years: Cheesemonger Live! In the virtual experience, customers schedule their appointment for a chance to look at which cheeses are in stock and ask questions before picking up their order curbside. “It's been an opportunity to innovate,” Antonelli said.

With the closure of their stores, Camp, a toy store based in New York, has started providing virtual birthday celebrations the birthday celebrant- all through Zoom. Parents share the name of the child and Camp creates agenda, which could include magician shows, sing-alongs, and story-time. Also offering free shipping on all their toy sets to help keep children busy while at home.


Let Your Customers Choose

If your services or business relies on personalization, set up a form with similar questions that you would ask your patrons. This way, you can still have a way to present recommendations for your products. Or, ask your customers how you can best serve them at this time. Sending out a simple email blast, asking for their opinion you can get greater insight into reaching your customers halfway.

After Capitol Hill Books in Washington, D.C. received an email asking for mystery book bags and tweeted about it, the bookstore began offering curated surprise book deliveries. Creating a form on their website, interested readers provide their ideal genre and price range, leaving Capitol Hill Books to provide the perfect book suggestion that can be picked up curbside or delivered. One day after tweeting this service, the store had over 50 people contacting the story with similar orders which has allowed the store to avoid any layoffs.

La De Da! in Chicago focuses on providing individualized recommendations for gifts and presents when patrons came in-store. They’ve adapted by embedding a form onto their Instagram page so that Jill Carlisle, the Store Owner, can still provide the perfect recommendation.


Look to Larger Brands & Partner with Less Affected Businesses

Be aware of what your city is doing to help small businesses as many are creating curated lists of open businesses that are being updated with changing delivery methods and adapted business hours.


Schick started a campaign to support unemployed barbers. Starting a social media campaign, the company is getting barbers that are out of work to share tutorials of how consumers can cut their own hair at home over Instagram, creating the #ShaveFromHome campaign.


As we look to the future, businesses will have to adapt to how the consumer mindset has changed. Moving into our new normal, as the world slowly starts to reopen, brands will need to be ready to adapt further to cater to the more health-conscious and online shopper.


Note: for more detailed tips, insights, and guidelines to how consumer behaviors are shifting and how brands are responding, check out the COVID-19 Recovery & Adaptation for Brands and Businesses.


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