Impacts resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic and the subsequent public health protocols and restrictions concerning public gatherings imposed by government have already left an indelible mark on the retail industry and the year 2020.
Current circumstances have caused significant and ongoing disruptions to most businesses across the country, disruptions that are most noticeable in the operations of small ‘Main Street’ retailers that serve local communities and depend on footfall and physical interaction to survive and thrive. And while many small businesses are still working through recovery from the effects of the first wave of the virus and resulting lockdown, the warning of impending announcements from Premiers across the country regarding further restrictions and another possible lockdown present them with some serious challenges to consider over the days and weeks to come.
The effects of the first wave of the virus’ spread were catastrophic for some small businesses. A study conducted by CIBC in May of this year found 54 per cent of business owners in Canada citing that their sales had dropped as an initial implication of the pandemic, while an additional 28 per cent said that they were forced to temporarily close their storefronts and halt operations altogether. Even more dramatic than those numbers, according to Statistics Canada data, businesses with less than 100 employees were more likely to report that their revenues from Q1-2020 were down by 20 per cent or more from Q1-2019 (60 per cent of those with 1 to 4 employees and nearly 56 per cent of those with 5 to 19 employees). Small businesses were also more likely to have laid off more than 80 per cent of their workforce (47 per cent of small businesses with 5 to 19 employees), more likely to have requested credit from financial institutions to cover operating costs (40 per cent of small businesses with 5 to 19 employees) and were more likely to have their rent deferred (22% of businesses with 5 to 19 employees).
Those that survived the initial lockdown have continued to struggle in its wake. And now, nearly nine months on, small businesses across the country are bracing themselves and their operations for another potential shutdown, which could result in potentially debilitating ramifications for Main Street purveyors in areas of restriction across the country. However, in their quest to endure the impacts of the pandemic, there are some critical questions that require answering as well as the need for small businesses to look outside of traditional parameters to truly pivot their thinking and operations and support growth during this difficult time.
Is Your Business Online with E-Commerce Capabilities and Functionality?
Making your product available online is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’. In light of store closures related to government restrictions on business, whatever product you specialize in providing for your valued customer has got to be made accessible to them in order to continue selling during any potential imposed lockdown.
CIBC research shows that of the 26 per cent of responding business owners who conduct online operations, 30 per cent of them have seen an increase in sales since impacts of the pandemic began as compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.
Services including those offered by Shopify and others can help your business set up online so you can keep selling.
How are Your Services and Products Being Delivered to Your Customer?
Relying on product to be purchased off shelves is obviously out of the question when operating during a lockdown. Small business owners have got to assess the means and ways by which products and services are delivered to their customers.
Making sure your product is available to purchase online is one thing. But by ensuring that your customer can receive their purchase in as many ways as possible will provide them with the convenience and security that they’re looking for. Does your store have the ability to offer curbside pickup? Are you able to offer customers contactless home delivery?
Reviewing your current methods of product delivery and thinking creatively about the ways in which you can leverage local courier services and other alternate modes of delivery could not only help your businesses withstand the impacts of reintroduced restrictions, it could also differentiate you and your offering in the long-term.
Do You Have the Tools Required to Increase Your Google Traffic?
With an online presence and e-commerce capabilities, small businesses should ensure that they are effectively being found by their customers. There’s a lot of clutter online.
Taking advantage of the latest services and offerings from Google’s search engine team and the resources it offers will allow you to stick out from the crowd and be seen by customers who are looking for you.
Optimizing search engine terms and keywords to capitalize on local digital traffic, and ensuring that your online offering is optimized for mobile, will pay dividends for you and your business, opening up your offering to a whole new audience and host of opportunities.
What Are the Modes of Customer Engagement That You Currently Employ?
Again, resting on the laurels of footfall to your store will not suffice during a period of further restrictions on your business. Social media channels, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others, offer a great means by which to connect with your customers, both existing and prospective, and to tell them the story of your brand and the product you offer.
These channels can be used to livestream, provide customer testimonials and promote your business in ways you may not have thought of until now.
There is no doubt that these are trying times for many small business owners across the country. However, within these challenges are opportunities for Canadian entrepreneurs to show their resilience and spirit of innovation to continue to succeed and thrive.
For more information concerning the tactics that small business owners can deploy in the days, weeks and months ahead, continue visiting Retail-Insider.com as we unpack the ramifications of the pandemic and restrictions on businesses, offering resources and expert advice to help you navigate through the challenges at hand.