Since the government-enforced lockdown began on the 23rd of March, businesses across the United Kingdom have had to make dramatic changes; whether this is temporarily closing their business, introducing social distancing and safety measures, or completely pivoting their services offerings to adapt to current consumer needs. Within Marlow in particular, most of the high street is now closed, with the exception of various supermarkets and banks, and a handful of other businesses able to continue operations.
This is an incredibly challenging time for many; attempting to establish how best to remain solvent, planning for all possible outcomes, realising that processes that have taken years to develop will need to be dismantled within the space of a few weeks, having to furlough indispensable team members, trying to forecast what is ahead of us is increasingly challenging in the fog of this crisis.
So, how are local businesses pivoting to keep their businesses going amid the pandemic? In addition to government support, there are several options that SMEs might be able to explore.
Offering Local Collection Services
March was the busiest month on record for UK supermarkets, seeing a 20.6% rise in sales. With restaurants and cafés now closed, none of us can eat meals on the go any longer and an extra 503 million meals (mainly lunches and snacks) will be prepared and eaten at home every week for the foreseeable future.
For restaurants, coffee shops, bars and cafés alike, this could have signalled an inevitable closure of their business. But what we are seeing increasingly across Marlow, Maidenhead, Henley and the wider Thames Valley area, is local Food & Beverage (F&B) businesses that have adjusted their services to offer local produce in packages available for collection, or their usual menus as a takeaway service.
Not only is this beneficial for customers who are reluctant to brave the busier supermarket chains, but also enables F&B organisations to maintain relationships with their usual stockists, continue to operate their business and employ staff, in addition to potentially reaching a wider audience that was not previously aware of them.
Focusing on eCommerce
Where possible, retailers are shifting their focus from physical stores to online sales. Across Europe, eCommerce is seeing continuous growth as physical stores are having to remain closed, as well as some consumers having more disposable income freed up from no commuting, eating out, etc. and taking up new hobbies to pass the time indoors.
For small businesses that already have an eCommerce function on their website, efforts are being refocused from a wider business strategy to an online-first approach. While shipping times are being slowed due to businesses needing to implement social distancing and protective measures for staff, having a robust eCommerce platform provides businesses with the opportunity to continue trading, albeit at a somewhat slower pace.
Adjusting Your Business Offering
If you are concerned about being able to manage a supply chain for physical products, it may be that you can ‘pivot’ business to fit the needs of the current consumer online. As more people turn to hobbies, personal development and other activities to fill their time, many businesses have used the opportunity to adjust accordingly - shifting selling to focus on their expertise, rather than a physical product.
This could look like hosting ‘live’ classes/webinars via video communication tools such as Zoom, creating PDF guides that can be shared online and downloaded at the click of a button or recording training videos that can be shared online.
Making Gift Cards Available
Encouraging people to buy a gift card from your local business and save it to use in the future is an immediate way to keep the business afloat, while also limiting interactions and non-essential services such as packing, shipping and delivery.
In a time where people are seeking out and a way of connecting to their loved ones from a distance, providing them with an opportunity to buy gift cards offers regular customers a means of treating their (future!) selves, or others. This can be a great gesture of customer loyalty during uncertain times and can be something relatively straightforward to set up for your business.
While there is a huge amount of uncertainty and confusion at the moment, one of the silver linings is the increased amount of focus on shopping locally. Where people are spending substantially more time at home, they are looking to their local communities, and this could well be a lifeline for many local businesses.