How do brick-and-mortar retailers stay in business despite the Coronacrisis? We’ve presented the four most important lessons for retailers at the Idealo web conference on April 27, 2020. At the online event, experts from different fields such as shop technology, payment, fulfillment, marketing discussed how retailers can react to the current challenges. Retailers were presented with best-practice examples.

Below we have summarised how brick-and-mortar retailers can digitalise their business and what the most important lessons from the Corona crisis are for them:

1. Walk-in customers are not as reliable as expected

Brick-and-mortar retail relies heavily on its walk-in customers. The store closures during the Corona crisis therefore mean massive sales losses for many physical shop owners – estimates indicate around 25% of reduction in sales volume. While there are various initiatives to support retailers, these are often not enough. Many retailers are now realising that a new strategy is needed. Short and long-term measures as part of an omnichannel strategy and the development of additional sales channels is now more important than ever for physical businesses.

2. Merchants must contact their customers

The closure of the stores has not only posed a challenge to retailers, but has also led to question marks among customers. Customers often want to support the shops in their neighbourhood, but do not know how to. This is where the retailers need to inform their customers. Awareness of local retail and the effects of the crisis are currently still particularly high among customers. The many initiatives that have been set up to support local retailers indicate this quite impressively. This is where good customer relationship management comes in. Merchants who have so far given high priority to their CRM and have already built up their communities online have been able to cushion the loss of sales better than others. For retailers who have so far postponed digitalization and the establishment of customer communication channels, now is exactly the right time to do so: Via social media channels such as Instagram or Facebook, newsletters and alternative consulting services via WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime or other channels, retailers can reach their customers and continue to sell. Good customer relationship management and the establishment of additional communication and sales channels can have a fundamentally positive effect on sales – and is particularly beneficial for retailers in times of crisis. Those who take care of these issues now are better positioned in case of a second wave of infection.

3. Online traffic becomes a must

It is now important for stationary traders to take effective measures quickly. Those who are not yet present online can create their own online shop and social media accounts at short notice. As a first step, retailers can inform about the new channels via eye-catching posters in their shop windows or flyers. The next step is to optimize the online presence and use online marketing measures to generate more online traffic. This includes, for example, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine advertising (SEA), the creation of an entry in Google My Business, a presence on marketplaces and price comparison portals such as idealo, and the use of the company’s own social media channels. Merchants can use all of these channels to promote their own online shop. In addition, brick-and-mortar retailers benefit from local marketing and storytelling, but also from an omnichannel strategy. As a result, the online shop becomes an extension of the existing business and can also be used in the long term for digital touchpoints in-store.

4. React quickly to changing situations

The faster retailers react to changing circumstances, the better the impact is on sales. This applies in principle to consumer needs that are constantly changing, but also to unexpected events such as the Corona crisis. For example, some retailers who normally sell clothes have now switched their production to masks, which customers are increasingly search for due to the legal obligation to wear masks. Vouchers are also currently being sold more frequently. Adaptability and flexibility then pay off – especially as long as closures or restrictions are not ruled out. But even now the contact and hygiene rules are already confronting brick-and-mortar retailers with challenges.

The impact of the Corona crisis on retail is immense. In Germany and many other European countries shops have to stay closed, with a few exceptions such as grocery stores or drugstores. Many stationary retailers – especially owners of smaller shops – fear for the survival of their business. One of the biggest fear factors is uncertainty: Nobody knows how long the restrictions will last and when retail will return to normal. At the same time, sales of many online retailers are increasing and more and more customers are having their goods delivered to their homes easily and safely.

The good news for brick-and-mortar-retailers is that it’s easy to build an online presence and reach customers. This not only boosts your sales but also offers your customers more convenience. In the best case, you can turn them into regular customers who will remain loyal to your business even after the Corona crisis is long over.

Create a free online shop with the stayopen initiative

To be accessible on the internet and to offer services such as Click & collect, you need an online shop. This also serves as a digital showcase for your shop where you can present your products. In order to help small shop owners limit the loss of sales through Corona, ePages has launched the stayopen initiative together with partners such as PAYONE, Hostpoint, Hostalia and Vilkas. As a brick-and-mortar-merchant, you can quickly create your own online shop with this initiative which will be free of charge until at least the end of June. If the regulations on shop closures persist or if risk groups still need to be protected, the shop will be free of charge beyond that date. No previous knowledge is required to create the shop. You manage it comfortably in the browser. You can choose from a variety of design templates, add products and edit the other content. The shop is always perfectly displayed on all end devices such as PCs, smartphones and tablets.

The free online shops can be created via the following websites:

www.epages.com

www.payone.com in Germany

www.vr-payment.de in Germany

www.hostpoint.ch in Switzerland

www.boxecommerce.com in France

www.hostalia.com in Spain

www.vilkas.fi in Finland

www.ecorner.com.au in Australia

www.dominios.pt in Portugal

All further information about stayopen can be found on our website.

Offer Click & collect/pickup in the shop

In addition to the delivery of goods to your home, Click & collect is also becoming increasingly popular. Customers order products online and pick them up from their local dealer. This is convenient for customers and retailers don’t have to send parcels. Queues in the shop and contact with other people are avoided. Customers also benefit from the fact that they often can pick up the goods on the same day and no shipping costs are incurred. Click & collect can be set up in your shop in just a few steps. Instructions for users of the shop software ePages Now can be found here.

What’s most important: Don’t forget to inform your customers about the services offered – for example in the shop header or with posters in the shop window.

Have products delivered to your customers’ homes

One of the most important rules in the Corona time is to always keep sufficient distance to other people. That’s why many shipping service providers now offer contactless delivery, for example by having the courier leave the package at the customer’s door. Sometimes it’s already possible that customers no longer have to confirm receipt of the delivery in writing but that the messenger takes a photo of the parcel in front of the customer’s door.

While the delivery of goods has almost always been handled by service providers such as DHL and DPD up to now, many brick-and-mortar-retailers deliver to customers in the neighborhood themselves during Corona times. Here too, contact between the messenger and the recipient can easily be avoided.

How to reach customers in your city with little effort

Search engine optimization (SEO) usually plays an important role for online shops. Through various measures, merchants can ensure that their shop achieves a high ranking in search engines such as Google and thus attracts more visitors. SEO is currently not so relevant for brick-and-mortar-merchants because it may take longer for these measures to take effect. Instead, it is much more important to reach the inhabitants of your city or neighborhood today and show them that you are still there for them.

A practical means of doing this is by using QR codes which can be scanned by the user with a smartphone. Using such codes, you can direct customers to your shop without them having to laboriously enter the address. You can create the codes, for example, using the free QR code generator, print them out and hang them in your shop window. If you wish, you can also offer additional QR codes – for example for certain products in your shop or for further information on delivery.

Even if search engine optimization should not be your top priority, there is one Google service of vital importance: Google My Business. When customers enter the name of your business on Google (or search terms such as “bookstore near me”), it allows them to find your company profile on Google. If you haven’t yet created one, or haven’t claimed an existing listing, now is the time to do so. In addition to the most important data, such as your address or telephone number, you should also enter a link to your online shop in Google My Business, point out services such as Click & collect and enter your current opening hours. All information about Google My Business can be found on the Google website.

Finally, a very easy to implement tip: inform your customers about all the new products with posters in the shop window. Here you should especially provide this information:

  • – The address of your online shop
  • – Services offered (e.g. click & collect and shipping)
  • – Opening hours, during which products can be collected from your store
  • – Further contact possibilities (telephone, email, social media etc.)

If customers can pick up products from your store, it is advisable to additionally specify the rules for this – for example, “Always keep a distance of 2 metres from customers in the queue” or “Please have counted cash ready.”

We wish you every success with our tips and hope that you see the challenges of the Corona era as an opportunity to drive your business forward.

But the most important thing is: Stay healthy!