Can you save your bricks-and-mortar shop by transforming it into an eCommerce business in the post-pandemic era?

Can you save your bricks-and-mortar shop by transforming it into an eCommerce business in the post-pandemic era?

Has the pandemic hurt your bricks-and-mortar business? Have you noticed that you are no longer seeing the volume of customers that used to come into your shop before the pandemic?

The only way to rejuvenate your business is to convert it to an eCommerce operation. This is a straightforward process if you sell commodities like clothing, home repair tools or sports equipment. Your customers could shop online and order their shirts, screwdrivers or running shoes to be delivered or made available for contactless pickup. Your online presence will need to be enhanced to include shoppable social media posts, pickup and return locations outside of physical stores, on-demand delivery, and regional or nationwide shipping. 

But what can you do if your business requires in-person customers in order to consume your product or service? Can eCommerce give you a path to fulfilling these needs even when in-person service is not possible? Let’s look at two examples: restaurants and entertainment venues. In both of these examples, knowing your customers, applying innovation and adapting to the realities of the pandemic marketplace are the keys to success. 

What can restaurants do?

Providing take-out options can become a good strategy. But how can restaurants tap into the increased need to prepare meals at home? Customers have more time at home during this pandemic; many are no longer commuting to work everyday. Sales of kitchen equipment have shot up. Remember the sour-dough bread craze of 2020? During the first year of the pandemic, some restaurants pivoted to help their customers cook at home.

They sold single-size and family-size meal kits complete with measured ingredients, packaged spicing and detailed instructions. They also sold grocery items like flour, olive oil and fresh herbs which at the time were in high demand. Not only did this pivot meet an emergent market need, but also it also helped some restaurants stay in business. 

A resourceful group of restaurateurs came up with another bright idea: selling their surplus food supplies to customers who were having a difficult time finding essential products at their local grocery stores. Be it fresh meats, seafood, produce, specialty herbs and spices or even paper products, restaurants had the products that their consumers wanted.

They announced their sales of surplus goods via social media, email and on their websites. The transition put these restaurants in a new position in the supply chain; many of them made the transformation from restaurateur to menu planners and grocers overnight. This pivot positioned restaurants as both an expanded resource for their customers and a support structure for their suppliers. 

For restauranteurs who want to leverage their supply chains by selling groceries, creating meal kits, or implementing some other creative strategy, here are four tips to get started:

  • Talk to your customers. What do they want or need? What would help make their lives easier and what tools do you have in your own toolkit that can help accommodate these needs (while supporting your sales goals)?
  • Get creative. This is when your restaurant can get into lines of business that you would never have thought of otherwise, like selling meal kits for home cooking. Challenging times call for innovative ideas.
  • Embrace eCommerce. Sell more online. Sell on your website. Sell via email. Sell on Instagram by creating shoppable posts. Develop meal kits and post details about them (and how to order them, pick them up, or have them delivered) on Instagram or Facebook.
  • Market what you have. Send your customers an email (and use whatever social media they use most) to let them know what you’re still serving and when or if there are other ways they can support your business and employees.

How about entertainment venues?

The same principles apply. Performance spaces such as theatre halls, bars and cafes have formed partnerships with musicians and theatre artists who perform online with ticketing handled through platforms like Eventbrite. A theatre group in Peterborough, Ontario put together a brilliant online performance by asking their actors to take videos of their solo performances at home as they acted out their parts in one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays. A theatre technician then stitched these individual clips together to create an early pandemic Zoom classic: Cut and Paste Macbeth. The theatre group took over the promotion and ticketing for the online performance of this play, thereby earning revenue for themselves and their actors.

The same model can be applied to online concerts and solo musical performances. Theatres and other performance spaces can also coordinate online film festivals targeting specific slices of their audience. Art galleries are launching online retrospectives of artists’ work to date and shows by new artists. Again, as with restaurants, find out what your customers want via email and social media, or by offering discounted tickets for completing online surveys. 

Whether your business sells physical commodities – like clothing or sports equipment– or you provide a service –such as a restaurant or entertainment venue– that is traditionally delivered in person, can you really save your bricks-and-mortar shop by transforming it into an eCommerce business in the post-pandemic era? The answer is YES! The effectiveness of this transformation from a bricks-and-mortar shop to an eCommerce business depends on you taking these 6 actions; taking these actions will set you up for success. 

6 actions to turn your bricks-and-mortar shop into an eCommerce business

Action #1: Your customers want convenience during their eCommerce shopping experience. You can deliver convenience by making your site as clear and as easy to use as possible. Remember that many former bricks-and-mortar shoppers are now testing online shopping. Not all of them are savvy Internet users just yet. Make their shopping experience easy. Build simple screens. Ask customers to perform only one task per screen. 

Action #2: Your customers want safety on multiple levels. They want maximum cyber safety. Their confidential information must be secure at all times. They also want physical safety as lingering concerns about the spread of Covid-19 are still widespread. How to provide this safety? Two things: (A) You need to make fast home delivery seamless and (B) You need to provide contactless pickup. 

Action #3: You will need to augment your current online budget so you can re-design your website, upgrade your online shopping cart so it is easy to use, improve your platform, upgrade your digital marketing and enhance your fulfillment processes. If all this sounds intimidating, keep in mind that you will be spending much less time on your physical plant and on staffing. 

You will also need to focus on issues central to running a business online, such as handling data privacy, taking online payments, digital marketing, sales tax in different geographies, protecting yourself from eCommerce fraud, and communicating your value to customers. 

Action #4: Think of your eCommerce business as an extension of your brick-and-mortar shop, at least in the beginning of your transition. As your customers get used to shopping on your eCommerce site, traffic analysis of your bricks-and-mortar-shopping volumes will tell you how to make your transition and when to scale back your physical shop. You may eventually down-scale your shop to a product pick-up boutique without any in-store customer shopping whatsoever. Maybe your location and the demographic of your customers will help you determine when you can close your bricks-and-mortar shop completely. Or maybe this analysis will tell you to maintain a small hybrid shop with limited in-store customer shopping and product pickup capability for your eCommerce customers.

Action #5: Re-evaluate your product range. You will need to maximize your digital product offerings while you make sure your order fulfillment processes are smooth and fast. Keep your capacity to fulfill orders in close alignment with your online product offerings. Don’t promote what you aren’t able to quickly deliver. You’ve heard this before –don’t over-promise and under-deliver. 

Action #6: Avoid the temptation to rip up your bricks-and-mortar business model and plunge into eCommerce without sufficient planning. Mall-based retailers, already limping due to department store struggles, saw their earnings drop over 250% percent in the second fiscal quarter of 2020, according to Retail Metrics. 

And if you’re ready to try out these actionable steps to transform your bricks-and-mortar business, there isn’t a better platform to consider than Shopify. Our Shopify Experts at HeyCarson, can help you execute on these goals and turn your brand into a real eCommerce business, at affordable project rates.

Making a decision

Meanwhile, other businesses were swamped with unexpected demand. Businesses with strong e-commerce strategies, or the ability to quickly pivot and deliver a multi-channel experience across stores, online, and social media, reaped huge rewards. Amazon posted its biggest profit ever during the summer of 2020, with sales growth up 40% over 2019. Walmart’s eCommerce shot up by 97%. Overall, online buying was up 45 percent between 2019 and 2020. 

Given these trends, it might be tempting to throw caution to the wind and charge ahead into the online world. But before you leap, be sure to make all your decisions based on a shrewd analysis of local customer data. Survey your customers, make your surveys concise and, if possible, rewarding. How? Offer discounts for completed surveys, or enter names in a raffle of an attractive prize. Analyze granular details about your customer preferences. Remain flexible as you respond to them. 

Business owners who act on location-rich data to place products where customers are (whether online or in-person), then personalize the shopping experience to suit new customer habits, will move through the post-pandemic transition with agility and success.

Remember, you don’t have to make this transition by yourself; our Shopify Experts at HeyCarson can help you navigate all the steps needed for setting up your eCommerce business on the Shopify platform, at affordable rates. Think of your new eCommerce business on Shopify not as a temporary life-raft but as a sleek sailing yacht that you can pilot through the rough waters of the fading pandemic into an exciting future era of innovation and reward.