I think it’s safe to say that this Christmas will be a bit different from usual. Regardless of where you live, there will be different rules and guidelines that will likely change how you shop, gather, and celebrate. Businesses are adapting on the fly and doing their best to navigate the tough times ahead. Christmas should mean an increase in sales, but public health guidelines should force more people to shop online.

Online shopping has come a long way in the past few years (and months), but it still has its flaws:

  • Big retailers have spent lots of money on e-commerce and have the processes to handle online fulfilment. They’ve cornered the market and made it easy for people to buy.
  • While some small businesses have created an e-commerce presence, many are not in a spot where they can sell online.
  • Many people are becoming more comfortable shopping online. However, there is still a big chunk of the population that is leery about sharing their credit card or buying something outside of a brick and mortar store.

There has been a constant call to support small businesses during these crazy times, and I’m all for it. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to help small retailers; it’s that most of these retailers don’t have the processes in place to make it easy for people to support them.

I’ve worked in both big box stores and small shops. In small shops, our rallying cry was always, “beat the big guys with great service,” and we were reasonably successful. We took the time to answer questions and ensure the customer got what they needed. Big box retail was a bit more of a price-driven circus. It was tough to provide good service when ten people were crowding around you.

Jump to the online world, and everything is in reverse. The big guys have the fancy, streamlined online stores, and can provide top-notch service through technology. Many small businesses can’t make online shopping simple, and it can become a bit more of a hassle. If you make the customer jump through too many hoops, they’ll leave and go somewhere else.

As someone that’s spent more time in retail than in marketing, I can only imagine the stress that small retailers are going through. The good news is that all is not lost. Let’s take a look at a few low-cost ways to drive holiday sales in a lockdown world. Of course one of the best solutions is to create an online store, but if you haven’t done it by now, you’re probably not going to have something up and running in time.

To make it even easier, I’ve highlighted the essential action items in red.

Go Live. A lot.

If you’ve ever heard one of my presentations, there’s a good chance that you know about Sweet Boutique. When it comes to using Facebook Live as a sales tool, they have it figured out. Each Wednesday, this boutique clothing store goes live on Facebook. They show off new products, answer questions, and chat with their audience. These videos are sales machines that allow the business to connect with their customers and provide an extra layer of service.

Live video is quickly becoming a useful tool in e-commerce. With a phone, a Facebook page and a bit of courage, any business can go live without much technical experience. All live videos on Facebook get archived as regular videos, so you can refer to them later or even promote them through advertising.

If I were still in retail and facing a lockdown or restrictive measures, I’d make live social media videos a priority. Heck, I’d even sit on camera and answer questions ask people who popped into the comments. Sort of like sitting behind the counter at the store… something that I got good at towards the end of my retail career.

Use Existing Tools to Communicate

With five weeks to go before Christmas, now isn’t the time to start doing a deep dive into new systems and tools. The learning curve is probably a bit steep for this late in the game. It’s time to get out the duct tape and create temporary solutions. In addition to phone and email, investigate things like Facebook Messenger and Google Forms. Both can be set up quickly and used to capture leads and talk with customers. If you use Google and Facebook as part of your business already, both are ready to roll.

Consider adding Facebook Messenger to your website to create a simple live chat feature. To do this, go to Settings > Messaging > Add Messenger to your website on your Facebook page. You can also create Messenger Ads, which encourage people to send you a message from within their Facebook stream. There are all sorts of things you can do within the platform once you’ve initiated these conversations.

Google Forms are handy to capture lead data. Perhaps you make a simple form that allows people to submit their gift lists, and then you follow up and help them pick out what they need.

Sell Service

You might not meet people in person, but you can still offer them high-quality service. Remember that your customers are in a challenging position too. They are trying to buy gifts for people and can’t browse a store for ideas. Many of them probably have limited knowledge of what they’re looking for in the first place. They need your help.

Platforms like Google Meet and Zoom have become commonplace in the past few months. Now it’s time to use these to your advantage. Offer free virtual concierge shopping experiences to your customers using these tools. Using a mobile device or tablet, you can walk people through your store, make suggestions, answer questions, and help them pick out their purchases. They can pay over the call, and you can have everything ready for pickup.

This might be an avenue to explore when it comes to advertising. Instead of advertising individual products, create a campaign promoting your personalized virtual shopping experience. Make sure you tailor your ads to the types of people that are looking for the gift, not getting it.

Piggyback and Partner

You’re not the only one fighting this fight. Businesses everywhere are in the same boat. Why not get together with a few of them and expand your offerings?

If one of your partners has e-commerce, approach them about piggybacking off them and including some of your best-selling products in their shop. Assuming you aren’t selling competing products, there are benefits for all parties involved. Their shop sees additional traffic from you sending your customers there, and you get a few of your products online. Are there logistical and financial roadblocks to overcome? Sure… but you can figure those out as you go.

Partnerships can work in many ways. If you sell complementary products, consider creating gift boxes or have an agreement where you send each other customers.

Speed Trumps Perfection

Near the start of the pandemic (which seems like three years ago at his point), I watched a presentation that has stuck with me throughout this whole ordeal. It was by Dr. Michael J Ryan, Executive Director at the World Health Organization. Dr. Ryan was one of the people behind the global response to Ebola. He shared what he learned from that experience. I think his thoughts (paraphrased below) ring true when it comes to running a business in these challenging times:

  • “You need to be coordinated. You need to be coherent.”
  • “If you need to be right before you move, you will never win.”
  • “Speed trumps perfection.”
  • “The greatest error is to be paralyzed by the fear of failure.”

Now isn’t the time to take a few weeks and build out a long-winded strategy. It’s time to act.

2020 has been challenging. The good news is that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news is that it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. While this Christmas season will be tough on small retailers, it’s not a lost cause.

It’s important to realize that the perfect solution doesn’t exist. We can’t look back in the history books and refer to what businesses did 10, 15 or 20 years ago during the last global pandemic. It’s time to find quick and dirty solutions to survive for the next few weeks and months.

Like one of my managers used to say, “Christmas in retail is the scrappiest time of the year!”.

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

 

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Brian Siddle

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