Lockdown pushed retailers into the online world. As customers were ordered to stay home, many found the digital channel was the only way to stave off failure. Orders were emailed in, eBay stores created and Shopify accounts opened. It was a vital lifeline.
A sense of camaraderie grew around our high street stores. We were in all in this together and so we tolerated the odd mistake or poor experience. The sticky plaster solutions shopkeepers came up with were part of the “plucky underdog” narrative we so enjoy.
Times are changing. Lockdowns are being lifted, and slumbering economies are waking. There are more people on the move, more willing to visit physical stores too. Queues are forming on pavements and in roads as we wait patiently for our turn to buy.
This cannot last
Claims the high street will enjoy a boom when people flock to support their local shops are overstated. The novelty factor of queuing will soon wear thin, particularly as the lines get longer, high streets more congested and keeping a safe distance becomes nigh on impossible.
People will return to their computers to shop. Only it will be different this time. Camaraderie will give way to consumerism and that is where the bodged together e-commerce platform you are relying on will let you down. Local shop be damned – customers want convenience, experience and price.
Time to prepare
There are still a few weeks left before the economy is let off the leash. It’s time you must invest wisely if you are to avoid being one of the 15-20 percent of small shops that could vanish in the next 12 months.
Over the next few weeks I strongly suggest you review your online presence. Compare it with competitors and your regulatory obligations to make sure you’re up to scratch. Prioritise and close gaps quickly.
My monitoring of social media over the past few weeks has identified a few key areas small stores have struggled with. These are worthy of specific attention.
Sales process: ensuring stock you’re selling online is available to dispatch is a common complaint
Deliveries: including how to track parcels when you’re sending out more than a handful and being able to answer the inevitable “where’s my order” questions
Returns: you’ll need a robust and compliant process to ensure customers can return what they don’t want and receive a refund
Online service: order tracking, returns management and marketing preferences all should be online
Click & collect: which local customers may want to make use of to beat lengthy queues.
Stay in front
Retailers, particularly those dependent on the high street footfall, are in a vulnerable position. It’ll be some time – if ever – before traffic and shopping returns and for many that will be too late.
If you have stepped out onto the internet now is the time to consolidate. Invest the next few weeks in building a robust online presence that gives customers what they want after the novelty of lockdown and “support your local high street” movements die down. Invest in a robust sales process, get your delivery and returns policies buttoned down and make sure customers can self-serve online.
None of this is difficult to do – it just takes time. That’s something we have right now.