COVID-19: Retailers playbook

This playbook is for small owner-operator businesses who want to fight for survival in the face of adversity. 

(Already have an online store, see What to do with your online store during the COVID-19 lockdown. Or, head to this blog post if you need to set up an online store in a hurry.)

During our interviews with retailers this week, there’s a sense of uncertainty. Sales are still ticking along, but they can’t help wonder how much longer for. Our goal here at Rocketspark is to help you prepare your business for change by offering a set of strategies and suggestions to hopefully keep the lights on.

If you’re deep in problem-solving mode, your website and digital solutions are probably the last thing on your mind, so we’ve created this playbook of key actions for you to consider at this challenging time.

When I spoke with store owners, they were tired of the dozens of COVID-19 emails from big corporates talking about their COVID-19 response. This playbook is not telling you to do that. In fact, because of that, email probably isn’t the right communication channel right now.  

For retailers, this document is an overall guide, with some specific tips to try and get ahead of the potential effects of this pandemic. There’s 2 main sections, one for any business looking to be able to sell online quickly and effectively, and some pointers for existing shops wanting to optimise their online presence.

We’ve aimed this at our Rocketspark customers, but these tips will work for any other platform out there - we want you to be successful regardless.

Is e-commerce going to be the saviour?

It’s really hard to know for sure the impact COVID-19 will have on the retail sector. 

A few things to consider;

  • People in isolation can’t visit your store
  • You might be forced to close your doors
  • If you are able to still pick and send orders in isolation or you are providing essential services, ecommerce may be the best solution to circumvent these problems - but I can’t say it’ll be a silver bullet.

The goal here is to make it as easy as possible for people to do business with you. I’ve laid a few key considerations below. These will help to ensure a good user experience, no matter the barriers to purchase.

If you don’t have an ecommerce store enabled, start here

Straight off, I want to say ecommerce is not always easy, but at Rocketspark, we make it as easy as it can be. Download our free eBook here on how to start an online store, OR if you're short on time go to our blog post on setting up an online store in a hurry

The book breaks down setting your own shop up into 7 easy-to-follow steps. 

  1. Setting up your online shop
  2. Shop structure, shipping, payment gateways and all the details
  3. Retail stores starting to sell online as well as in-store
  4. Build a social media following
  5. Email marketing
  6. Getting found in Google | Ecommerce SEO
  7. Managing orders and sending out products

These steps are all fairly straightforward. If you do get stuck, we can help.

A couple of other things I’d suggest for a new ecommerce shop

  • Integrate with Google Shopping and Instagram shopping. The more pathways to market, the better. For one ecommerce retailer, connecting to Google Shopping delivered an average of 482% return on investment.
  • Since we’re talking about pathways to market, it could be worth investigating your appetite to tap into the overseas market. With that can come stock management and logistic headaches. Utilising a tool like TradeGecko would be an excellent solution to help solve these problems. Plus having the ability to automatically sync stock to Amazon opens up your addressable market to over 190 million potential new customers worldwide.

If you already have an ecommerce store setup (although these points apply to new stores too):

Look at tweaking your returns policy to encourage people to buy from you with confidence. 

  • A consumer friendly returns policy can have the effect of inviting potential customers to take a chance on something they might not normally buy.
  • Several recent studies have in fact begun illuminating the potential benefits of instituting an easy returns process.

Good product imagery is a must. You don’t need to have a professional take them, there are plenty of DIY options that work well in any setting. The right lighting and tools can make all the difference. 

Information rich product listings also make a difference. A Shotfarm study of 1,500 consumers showed some pretty sobering results;

  • 40% had returned an online purchase because of poor product content
  • More than 90% of abandoned carts listed poor product descriptions as a factor
  • 87% said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to make a repeat purchase with a retailer that had inaccurate product information.
  • To combat this consider these:

+ Include measurements. In lieu of people being able to come to your shop, product dimensions are extremely important.

+ Include a video of the item, focus on things like weight, feel and relative size to other objects.  You can embed videos onto the product page on Rocketspark.

+ If you’re offering boutique or artisan items feel free to include a brief statement on the provenance of the product. Where it came from, what inspired it and most importantly, what it’s made of.

+ Make your product descriptions helpful and interesting. In the last section of this document, I’ve added some advice on an approach to writing product information that will help.

Offer free shipping. I don’t have a study, or metric to back this one up, other than good old fashioned common sense.

Explore additional opportunities to engage with your customer. Here at Rocketspark we use a service called Intercom to live chat with prospective customers. Facebook messenger can also be integrated into your Rocketspark site. If your product is something that is a tactile experience, fabrics, timbers, metals, things that need to be felt, you’re going to need your ecommerce store to work harder for you. Consider offering live video through Facebook chat. Qualify the customer, and if they're keen, get them on a video call(they can disable their video if they’re not comfortable) and move with them around the shop. Touch the product for them, describe how it feels, gee, even rub the fabric together to demonstrate how coarse or natural the fibres are. For demonstrable products, do just that. Demonstrate them.

Email marketing is a key tool in your digital marketing efforts. Mailchimp is a great way to build your membership base and to see which campaigns are working. Mailchimp Ecommerce also gives you the opportunity to reach out to people that have abandoned their shopping carts — this has a really high conversion rate and is well worth the investment. Check out our blog on setting up abandoned cart messaging here.

‘Buy Now Pay Later’ services like Laybuy, Afterpay and Zip Pay are becoming more and more popular. The ease of use and the ability to spread interest free payments over a period of time are the major selling points for consumers. From your perspective, the merchant fees are higher. But, the benefit is much greater. Anecdotally our customers that utilise one or more of these services note a much higher value per transaction — all at no risk to your business.

Logistics will be more important than you realise

Something else to note, is the logistics side of things. We have many customers use a freight aggregator service called GoSweetSpot. They give you the ability to easily organise orders to be sent. You can also print a label for the customer to use for any returns they might have. If you saw my point earlier about tweaking your returns policy to encourage purchases, this is another way to achieve that.

Currently, couriers are going gangbusters. 

Couriers are considered an essential service, but are only collecting essential parcels. This makes things much tougher in terms of taking orders. However, if you state clearly that you’re happy to take orders as pre-orders and as long as customers are willing to wait 4 weeks or more for shipping, then you should be good to go. However, if there are any restrictions placed upon them going forward, you could be in a bit of trouble but at present they are considered an essential service in most places.

Too many products, so little time

If you have an extensive product range you may not have the time or capacity to load a full shop up, but you can simplify the process:

  • Use the CSV import to prepare your products in a spreadsheet from existing lists you have, you can even import images from Dropbox.
  • Uploading a smaller selection of products - focusing on a core range will give you more control and the ability to give more attention to each.
  • Use a downloadable order form for the customer to fill and send to you. You can then generate an invoice for payment via your accounting system or payment platforms such as Stripe or Paypal.

Check out how one of our current customers has done just that here.

Let’s talk about writing for ecommerce

Your images are big and beautiful. Your shipping is free. Your returns policy is so chill you could store your beers in it. So why then are people not buying from your store?

The problem might be your copy. “But my copy is great! I’m a fantastic writer!”

I’m sure you are a fantastic writer, but fantastic writers don’t always make fantastic copywriters. Your copy might well be error free and nicely written, but does it engage your website viewers enough to convert them into buying your product? Does it help to define your brand? Is it building that trust? If your conversions are poor, it’s highly likely that the answer is “no” to all three of those questions.

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Here are 3 simple tips that will change the way your potential customers perceive your business and it’s products.

     1. Avoid cliche phrases that make your customer say “yeah yeah.” 

As in “we’ve heard that line before,” or “that’s what they all say.” Here’s an example of a few sentences filled with “yeah yeah” phrases.

”Rocketspark are purveyors of the finest web design tools the internet has to offer. We’ve redefined the web industry with a combination of the latest tech, cutting edge design and affordable pricing, meaning all you have to worry about is counting the sales as they roll in.”
So if you spend any time shopping online, you’ve definitely read a paragraph like this before. “Finest the internet has to offer”, “redefined the industry”, “latest tech”, “cutting edge” - these are all classic cliche phrases.

(HINT: To find “yeah yeah” phrases, start by looking for any word that has “est” at the end. Best? Finest? Comfiest? They’re probably not adding anything. Remember, if you’re struggling to find the right words, keep it simple and to-the-point. More on that later.)

     2. Talk about the customer, not about you.

Consumers love to hear about themselves. We all do really, it’s in our nature. Yet so many stores fail to realise this. If you want your visitor to pay attention, talk about them, not about you.
Here’s how a product description might read if the writer has forgotten about the audience:
“Our t-shirts are made from 100% cotton for guaranteed comfort. We offer free shipping on all orders over $20, and have a no-questions-asked returns policy. Why not give us a try?”
It’s fine, but it’s far too self focused. How could it read if we focused on the reader instead?
“You deserve a t-shirt that feels as good as it looks, which is why all of our apparel is made from 100% cotton. We’ll give you free shipping on any order over $20, and the freedom to return your product if you don’t love it as much as we do.”

There’s something far more appealing about copy that uses “you” and “your” instead of “we” and “our”. It’s a subtle change, but it makes a huge difference.

     3. Be brief, but informative.

I talked about the value of product information earlier, and it stands here too. This rule is most relevant to your title text. Make sure it’s clear, simple and to-the-point. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t be too clever. Are your t-shirts super comfortable? “Really comfy t-shirts.” would be a perfectly adequate title. “T-shirts that make you feel good” would also be great. I haven’t been inventive or creative here - there’s no riddle or pun or double entendre. But it works. Telling it how it is, always works.

Update Facebook AND your Website — don’t leave people wondering!

Some businesses are communicating regularly with their Facebook followers about how they’re adapting to business in a new world, but most are forgetting to also post that information on their website’s homepage.

Adding a notice to your homepage about COVID-19 is as simple as adding a new stack right near the top of the page, adding a heading and then a paragraph of information. Watch our quick video on how to create a COVID-9 Stack on your website.

Your website visitors want to know:

  • Are you still open?
  • How can I get my prescription?
  • Preferred way to contact you?
  • Can I still purchase other products from your store and how?
  • What is your policy if I'm showing symptoms of COVID-19?
  • If you’re operating, what precautions are you taking to protect staff and guests?

Optimise your business for Google searches

In a normal market, a heavy proportion of your sales come from foot traffic but if people are isolating, you may find more shoppers taking to regular Google search to investigate alternative options. 

Here’s things we’ve seen work well:

  • Write blog posts on very specific topics and questions people might be searching for, focus on specific product solutions
  • Create landing pages focussed on brands and keyword phrases
  • Linking blog posts and landing pages together
  • Invite other relevant websites to link to your landing pages and blog posts

We’re always nagging our friends in retail businesses to write some blogs as it really helps their rankings but they’re often too busy. Maybe now might be the perfect time to invest in some content creation.

Check out our Rocketspark eBook on building an effective website for step by step guidance on optimising your site for search engines.

Appeal to the domestic market and be real about your struggle

With the import sector slowing down, and possibly ceasing altogether, now is the perfect time to either initiate or promote your local sourcing practices. 

Be honest and real about your business struggles and don’t be afraid to share with your social networks the impact of sales you’ve lost and how difficult things are.

A few of the pricing offers we’ve heard are:

  • 25% off discounts for locals
  • Across the board discounts
  • Buy 2 products and get the third free.

Make it clear on your home page and social media what the deal is.  Add a stack to your homepage promoting the offer and even set up a specific landing page about it.

Know what financial support you can get

Be proactive and get on the phone now with key stakeholders to find out what kind of financial assistance you can get access to — don’t wait for it to come to you.  Our experience with government funding opportunities before COVID-19 is that help is there but you need to do the groundwork and communication well. Over-communicate with stakeholders, don’t miss out on opportunities.

We recommend reaching out to these agencies for advice:
  • Your local chamber of commerce
  • Regional economic development agency which may have regional development funding available
  • Government rescue packages
  • Talk to your bank.  Banks are recognising the need to protect businesses and we’ve seen good support provided today to a client’s business who’s orders had stopped. 
How to access government COVID-19 financial assistance.

We can help

If you need help in anyway, don’t forget you can get in touch with us.