How to keep your business running in tougher tiers

Following recent COVID-19 developments and tightening of restrictions, the ACT can confirm that bicycle shops will be allowed to remain open across all tiers in England, Wales and Scotland. But with millions of people placed in Tier 4, retailers will have to adapt to acknowledge the significant shift towards online shopping.

Now is the time to build further upon your online marketing efforts – says the ACT – respecting public safety means adjusting your business to become as accessible as possible for people that are unable to leave their homes.

Build your online brand
Take this opportunity to tailor your business to the millions of customers that are already shopping online, and the millions more that will be joining them during this isolation period. Appeal to this audience by building a robust online brand using social media platforms and your own website.

Evaluate your website and ensure it’s all up to date. There is a plethora of resources available online to aid you in refreshing your website design and ensuring that it is fully optimised for search engines. The Google webmaster courses are designed to aid you in building a high-quality website and improve your site’s content and user experience.

In addition to refreshing your website, take this time to access all of the social media platforms that can be used as assets to reflect your brand. If you haven’t already created profiles, now is the time to build an online presence.

Since the start of the pandemic, social media activity has increased by 61% worldwide, and there is a 70% increase in web browsing. This means it is only natural that businesses also move to an online forum. 87% of customers now begin their product search online.

The statistics suggest that moving to an online platform would hugely increase sales. 35% of small personal businesses have moved to an online store, and many will remain this way, even after the pandemic. Moving online has many benefits during Tier 4.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow you to connect with current and potential customers. These platforms also create a way for you to keep your stakeholders up-do-date with your business- such as what products and services you are offering and how you are catering to customers throughout the current uncertainties.

Investing time in building your online presence will help to future-proof your business and help it to flourish without the existence of a physical store.

Adapting your services
Whether your shop is able to remain open or you’ve had to shut up shop, online retail remains a viable and encouraged option. Postal and delivery services are currently still running as normal, which may be an option for sending stock to further away locations.

In Tier 4, click and collect and take out services are still able to function. Therefore, many businesses are moving towards this to prevent them from closing altogether. Click and collect has been a popular response to the pandemic, and some stores record click and collect volumes up by more than 200%.

In addition to using delivery services, you may consider providing your own delivery option. If you have a vehicle that fits stock in it then this could be a great help for any customers that are self-isolating. However, please ensure that you check your vehicle insurance before committing to this option as standard car insurance policies may not cover the use of vehicle for business purposes. Contact your insurance provider/broker to check if they can extend your business and vehicle insurance to cover home delivery.

Customers can place orders on the phone, through your own website, or another online platform such as WhatsApp, email, text, a Twitter direct message or a Facebook message. Indie Retail (a website promoting independent retail run by the Independent Retailers Confederation (IRC)) has partnered with NearSt, who have recently introduced the option to add WhatsApp chat functionality on your NearSt shop page, which is another useful way of keeping in touch with your customers and taking orders. Read more about this here.

When carrying out collections and deliveries, ensure you adopt a contactless model by eradicating all forms of contact between yourself and the customer and maintaining a two-metre distance at all times.

Payment for services or products can be taken online or over the phone. The most common option is a card-not-present card transaction, whereby the customer’s long card number and security code are manually entered on your terminal. Ensure you read IRC member, the ACT’s advice on how to avoid card-not-present fraud before taking any payments. Other payment options include using a virtual terminal provider such as PayPal or Worldpay or exchanging cash in a hygienic manner.

Big data
Data is essential in progressing and utilising your business. Companies can process their data to notice trends in product sales and what customers want. Many businesses are struggling during the pandemic, so they need to know what is or isn’t selling. This will save the company money since the data will allow businesses to identify and reduce unwanted and unpopular stock.

In the long term, this will increase sales as companies will be able to optimise their stock based on predictions from data collected. By using data insights, businesses can quickly identify what the customer wants, meaning there is less risk involved.

Optimistic as well as opportunistic
Weathering the coronavirus crisis as an independent retailer can seem daunting, however, it is important to identify ways in which you can reach and engage with customers throughout this time, rather than waiting for customers to come to you.

Take a step back from the chaos and evaluate all business assets – including your website, social media channels, stock, premises, team and area of expertise. Consider how you can address the current wants and needs of your customers and the general public. You can find opportunities for innovation everywhere that will help your shop to survive, adapt and grow throughout these hard times. Strengthening these assets now will help towards long-term future proofing your business as we draw closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Let customers know you are still trading
Indie Retail has created the ‘We Are Open‘ directory that lists UK shops and small businesses that are still open in some way to the public and operating responsibly during COVID-19.

The map enables customers to search by location, brand or sector and enjoy shopping with the UK’s independent retailers. Add your shop to the directory and let customers know the extent to which your shop is still open.

For bicycle shops, The Bicycle Association and Association of Cycle Traders have worked together to make a tool where key workers and others can quickly find open bike shops. Open bike shops are encouraged to add their details to openbikeshops.uk/trade. Your opening information will then be available nationally via openbikeshops.uk so that customers can direct any enquiries straight to you.

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