Whilst the measures imposed by the health authorities and the state as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to be progressively relaxed, businesses are planning the next steps or are they? This question is posed because we are seeing shops re-open and hoping to kick-start a business as usual situation, but what is business as usual?
Outlets offering services such as hairdressers, nail technicians and the like, may have loyal customers who may have been waiting to return. These types of services form part of the lifestyle and general wellbeing of many. Whilst during the past weeks business doors had to shut down, with the inevitable consequence of loss of revenue, at the outset this can possibly be recouped as the momentum catches up again.
Retail outlets selling other non-essential products such as clothing and jewellery may have a different reality to face. Even if they have a threshold of loyal customers, market share or other elements which can contribute to their respective survival and success, the reality now is different. People will buy fewer clothes if there are no occasions to attend, events and activity where to go and what to do. The same goes to gifts. Although birthdays and other occasions will continue to occur, this may not be enough to make up for the loss of sales during these past months. One also may remember that the COVID-19 reality came exactly after a slow Christmas and start of the New Year due to political uncertainty at the time and the eventual changes with the election of a new prime minister. The next question is, are there any solutions? A perspective to help generate thought for businesses as a way forward is to possibly ask how are our customers and potential ones currently behaving?
On-line shopping probably increased significantly during the past weeks, boosting sales through this channel for supermarkets, take aways and the like. This, together with working virtually such as conducting meetings, means that customers have practiced more electronically, with the logical consequence of giving more momentum to the trend of embedding technology in daily life. Therefore, apart from extensive indirect competition coming from e.g. a wide choice of alternatives for gift items and personal fashion accessories, outlets providing non-essential products and services are also exposed to the global market’s competition.
The next question is what can these types of outlets do today? How can they react to this new reality?
Now is the time to delight customers with a top customer experience. The fact that one of the current requirements is to allow one person per 10 metres means that customers could be given more personal attention which is well correlated with customer care. The generally small sized shop in Malta presents an opportunity for outlets (depending on the sector) to simulate an experience of what a celebrity would normally get - that a customer or a couple, can have a shop for themselves enjoying full attention. The customer experience can be enhanced through the accessibility of products through the retail outlet and the possibility of relating personally. This is also an opportunity to organise data for digital marketing communication with the customer, coupled with creating incentives such as vouchers and other offers which could be used by e.g. the end of the year – thus reaching those who are still shying from unnecessary outdoor activity.
Businesses can thrive during this time by building the relationship with the customer and creating the distinguishing factor which makes them unique.