Rethinking Retail

By Jennifer Schulze, Vice President, Product Marketing | April 28, 2020

It’s easy to be nostalgic for times when just weeks ago you could go to the store without having to stand in line, stay 6 feet apart, or mingle and browse without a second thought. Retailers miss those days, too. And they’re working to conform to rapid change and requirements that come along with new realities.  

Most retailers were already expanding from “brick to click” by creating online capabilities as well as modern, in-store shopping experiences. They understood that customers wanted to shop anytime, anywhere with personalization and loyalty rewards. What no one anticipated was the need for rapid innovation and change due to store closings and mandated lockdowns for unknown periods of time due to COVID-19.

Independent Retailers

While larger stores often have the financial means to ride out challenging times, small to mid-sized retailers generally do not. They run lean, making on average $10K in profit a year. For them, it’s either close doors or shift immediately to an alternate strategy. The great thing about these businesses is the owners are tenacious. They’re finding ways to make shifts and think creatively about doing business. Often, they’re offering products and services in new ways and extending when and how they sell. Some are even implementing new technology, delivery, and pick up services that bring the shopping to their customers. 

Here are some of their stories.

Moana Nursery Cultivates New Ground

Moana Nursery is a Nevada-based nursery and landscape company with locations in the Reno area. President and CEO, Scott Gescheider, recognized early that he needed to make changes to adapt to social distancing and shelter-in-place orders. Moana Nursery had a website, but it was predominately geared towards showcasing an on-site showroom—a garden paradise that, sadly, few would visit. 

The nursery’s own talented employees used Epicor software with built in payment capabilities to create a new online store. Moana employees also took all the photos for their new e-commerce website and completed it in less than 14 days. The results are compelling—and a pleasant surprise. “We couldn’t be happier,” says Gescheider. “In only two weeks, we launched an e-commerce site that generated over 370 orders and $33,000 of additional sales in just 14 days since go-live. It far exceeded any expectations that we had.”

The nursery quickly responded in other ways, too. They added curbside pick-up for online orders in some locations and personal shopping assistance. Their agility delivered not only a great customer experience, but quickly met immediate consumer needs and extended well-established customer loyalty to a whole new way of doing business.

Retooling to Drive Sales

During this time, other companies are extending or redefining their product mix. INC 82 is one of my favorite local breweries. This Dublin, CA establishment decided to offer groceries when the lockdown for nonessential businesses closed its doors. They created special take-out hours and provided beer, of course, but also basic groceries such as pasta, bread, fruit, and vegetables. They made finding them easy, too, with a map of their pickup location and take-out hours. It’s a good location that sure beats the somewhat risky grocery store shopping experience. I’m hopeful these changes carry them through these challenging times. I admire them for trying something new to counter an entirely unexpected scenario.  

Getting Social

The Girl Scouts in my area recently executed a brilliant marketing campaign that local retailers can take cues from. While I always buy a few boxes of cookies, which my children promptly inhale, this year I bought more from a troop with a drive through sale. I purchased five boxes, simply because it was so easy. They brought the cookie selling experience right to my car. 

They advertised on local social channels: Nextdoor, Yahoo Groups, etc. The Girl Scouts also took pictures of their drive through tent and sent texts to their parents, family, and friends that offered great potential for further sharing. They advertised at freeway intersections with signs and clear directions to their location. Finally, they astutely practiced great partner marketing. They partnered with a sporting goods store that provided the drive through location and 20% off coupons to handout with cookie sales. A win-win. Foot traffic for the store and a great location for the Girl Scouts. With this winning strategy, they sold 350 more boxes than the previous year. Social media powered their strategy and it worked. 

Savvy local retailers are also using social media marketing. It’s a low-cost way to get news out to loyal customers to communicate business status, while opening a conversation that keeps them top of mind. Social posts can aIso drive traffic to websites that can be configured for easy shopping and check out. 

Taking Bold Steps

Drive and ambition are personality traits of every business owner, especially those in retail. It’s not for the faint of heart. Every decision and transaction comes from the heart. The resilience that’s required has never been needed more as businesses shift to new norms. Retailers are rethinking how they can bring their store to consumers online, at home, or to their car. It’s really about making their store mobile.

Small businesses that are approaching The New Now in creative ways are seeing results. What the future holds for them remains to be seen. I’m personally thrilled to see retailers acting as change agents in bold new ways. As consumers, we can support local businesses as they experiment during challenging times. Be patient and loyal. Continue to buy from your favorite local retailers to support their transformation efforts.

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