As the COVID-19 outbreak spread throughout the United States, Kristen Young started to prepare her sustainable clothing and home goods business.
Barge North Company existed only in two brick-and-mortar Northern California locations, and she knew shelter-in-place orders were coming. By the time California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the order on March 19, Young was ready to adapt to the new reality.
She quickly shifted to an e-commerce platform. The same day Newsom told Californians to shelter in place, Young used Instagram to announce the indefinite closure of her stores in Mendocino and Sebastopol while pointing customers to her new online shop.
On Instagram, Young delivered a clear message to Barge North Company’s followers: “You can continue to support us & many other small retail shops by shopping online!”
With much of America practicing social distancing to help curb the spread of COVID-19, small retail businesses that operate primarily through brick-and-mortar locations face a significant challenge. The federal government’s emergency Paycheck Protection Program is intended to help many. (Bank of the West is an approved lender for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)). But most small retail shops still need to make up for the loss of countless in-person customers who are now cooped up at home instead of strolling into stores. That makes it crucial to connect with customers online.
Fortunately for small retailers, there are several ways to get up and running online with relative quickness and ease. Here are 3 essential steps to making the transition.
1. Choose an e-commerce platform
For brick-and-mortar retailers looking to bring their businesses online for the first time, the journey typically begins with setting up a website.
Several services make it possible to build a nice-looking site from scratch with no engineering or design experience required, thanks to stylish templates and simple drag-and-drop tools.
Features these platforms frequently offer include order tracking, customer analytics, and mobile-responsive layout.
2. Think about an integrated payment solution
If you don’t opt for an all-in-one platform, you’ll need to find an integrated payment solution. Integrated payment solutions let you accept credit card orders while streamlining your accounting and invoicing processes. They allow your e-commerce site to accept payments and direct that income into a bank account that you connect to your site. As a result, you’ll save time and increase security.
3. Market your business
Once you’ve set up an e-commerce site and settled on a payment solution, you’ll want to market your business. Like many small retail entrepreneurs, Kristen Young was already using Instagram before the COVID-19 outbreak to promote Barge North Company’s brick-and-mortar stores. This meant she had a built-in audience when she announced her transition to an online-only model.
Whether you already did some online marketing or are starting from scratch, the web has no shortage of guides and resources to help accelerate your efforts. Instagram is great for a visual-first approach. Facebook’s micro-targeting lets you hone in on potential customers. Services such as Mailchimp offer email marketing solutions. Whatever approach you want to take, there is likely a deep-dive guide online to walk you through strategies and executions.
No matter your platform or approach, a little creativity never hurts. Piroshky Piroshky, a bakery in Seattle, recently started livestreaming from its store during the COVID-19 crisis. This helps to humanize the business for customers while also showing off Piroshky Piroshky’s baking process and cleanliness standards. If you’re looking for more creative inspiration, here’s a decent place to start.
The bottom line is that small retail businesses will likely face challenges for as long as the COVID-19 pandemic lasts. But pivoting to an e-commerce model can help weather the storm—and it might even set your business up to be stronger in the long run after this crisis passes.