By Cristalle Choi
This holiday shopping season in Central Florida will be anything but normal. Earlier this year, a study conducted by the Orlando Economic Partnership reported that 76% of businesses surveyed were experiencing some form of decline in profits. Now, local businesses, already facing increased financial vulnerability, are under immense pressure to meet their year-end sales targets amidst the economic uncertainty brought forth by the recent nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.
As 2020 has demonstrated, the key to weathering this storm is the ability to adapt amidst the uncertainty. Here are three tactics local businesses must employ to thrive in this year’s historic “online-first” holiday season.
Segment and personalize
While the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, its impact has not been the same for every shopper. In fact, a commercial real estate firm CBRE predicts an increase of about 1.5% in holding shopping, “assuming there is no major resurgence of the virus or mandated store closures.” Businesses that recognize this variance have the opportunity to connect with individual consumers in relevant and meaningful ways. By analyzing and segmenting their audience accordingly, businesses can then personalize offers based on consumers and their changing needs, lifestyles, and preferences.
While technology of this sort can assist with providing a customized shopping experience, businesses need to recognize that consumers still crave personal connections. Small businesses can facilitate these vital interactions by engaging with other locals through social media and supporting community causes. Wherever possible, stores should find ways to make customers feel important, cared for, and part of a bigger community.
Now more than ever, businesses need to meet consumers where they are. It is to nobody’s surprise that this is now online. A National Retail Foundation survey from October found that 60% of consumers surveyed expect their online purchases to increase. Considering this, businesses should assess whether they are equipped with the proper tools to support online shopping. Regardless of whether they’re operating online, in person, or both, small businesses should also ensure consumers always have the most up-to-date information about their offers. This includes clearly listing new store hours, delivery options, and catered promotional deals on their website and social media platforms.
The excitement of in-person holiday shopping is a modern-day cultural phenomenon – and one that many residents are likely to crave despite the pandemic. To meet this need safely, small businesses should transform their physical spaces to be more accommodating of consumers’ well-being.
In addition to adhering to social distancing guidelines, small businesses can adopt simple technological advancements like QR codes, contactless payment, and curbside pickup to provide customers with options while ensuring their safety and comfort.
Make the shopping experience seamless
Pandemic or not, safety and efficiency are two things a customer will always value. Therefore, businesses that can coordinate the entire purchase experience, from start to finish, will always be valued.
Here are some more recommendations for businesses to boost customer experience:
- Provide loyalty options so that consumers remain within your brand ecosystem. This could be as simple as a punch-card that enables a reward redemption after a certain number of visits, or as advanced as an account within the business’ website to keep track of their history. Providing a small nudge that helps the consumer come back to the business will always be helpful.
- Feature customer reviews and testimonials when possible. This will help new buyers easily learn and evaluate the offerings to alleviate uncertainty. It also establishes trust and transparency for a potential new customer.
- Communicate all purchase options the business offers, including in-store, curbside pickup, and delivery. Options help bolster consumer confidence in your product and allow them to choose what they are most comfortable in.
- Finally, cultivate the in-store experience within an online environment. What do the loyal fans love about your business? Try to communicate this essence to potential customers online. From the “Our Story” page on the website to small hand-written cards when shipping products, make online work uniquely for you.
Cristalle Choi is a resident of Seminole County and a Dean’s Scholar at Rollins College, Class of 2022.