As the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to lessen, many organizations have begun to switch their focus from surviving the economic challenges that they’ve faced over the past year to restoring normal business operations as soon as possible. The good news is that retail sales appear to be on the rebound, due in part to larger numbers of customers beginning to return to in-store shopping and inside dining. U.S. Commerce Department data shows that retail sales soared 9.8% in March, the second-largest increase since 1992 (when the government started tracking the data).
But business owners know that the pandemic has also shifted the desires and expectations of both consumers and employees. For example, the onset of COVID-19 accelerated the rise of e-commerce, which rose to one-third of total retail sales in July 2020. Forecasts had predicted it would take until 2024 for online sales to reach 24% of all sales. Even before the pandemic, brick-and-mortar retailers were contending with Amazon and other e-commerce businesses, so they now have the added challenge of reclaiming customers lost since March 2020.
Modifications that businesses adopted during the pandemic — such as starting or ramping up takeout operations and adopting online ordering with curbside pickup — have become popular with customers and employees. As a result, returning to normal doesn’t mean going back to the old ways of doing business; you may need to adopt new approaches. Navigating through this transformation will pose challenges, but the result can be an even stronger operation and a boost to your bottom line.
Planning for the Next Normal
For many businesses, preparing for the next normal is likely to be a process. Here are five essential steps to reopen or ramp up your business:
- Develop an overall plan. Determine the best timing for your reopening or expansion of hours. Decide whether to add products or services immediately or to focus on your strengths and expand slowly. Analyze your staffing needs and whether you’ll need to find new employees to replace ones who may have moved on to other jobs.
- Communicate with stakeholders. Talk with your staff to hear their concerns and gain their insights about the best ways to move forward. Let your landlord, customers, and other interested parties know that you’re making plans to reopen or to expand your operations and that you’ll keep them updated. Work with vendors to ensure your supply chain will be ready to meet your demands.
- Update your marketing strategies. During the transition to normal operations, you will likely need to take a different approach to marketing. Whether through advertising and in-store promotions — or via your website, email campaigns, and social media outreach — make sure your messages resonate with your customers and the changing times.
- Reassess your in-store experience. To attract customers back to their stores, small retailers may need to rethink their in-store experiences and make them even better than before. Before the pandemic, big retail brands such as Walmart and Bass Pro Shops were focused on prioritizing the in-store experience, holding special events that drove visits, increased linger time, and boosted sales. These types of events may be a good way to reintroduce your business to members of your community.
- Stay flexible. Your business will be entering new territory, so perhaps the most crucial factor for finding success will be to be ready to adapt to new challenges. Some facets of reopening or ramping up may be more problematic than you anticipated, and you may encounter obstacles that you didn’t expect. You’ll need to analyze sales, customer behavior, and other indicators to make adjustments to your procedures and marketing plans as you go along. Be sure to listen to feedback from employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
Taking Advantage of New Opportunities
With the light now visible at the end of the long pandemic tunnel, business owners can finally enjoy exhaling a sigh of relief. Your business will still face challenges, but it can also take advantage of many exciting opportunities. As you make preparations for reopening, we’re here to lend a helping hand. Whether you need a business loan or a line of credit, payment processing, or other banking services, contact us today.
Finally, here are two useful resources for your business as you prepare to return to normal operations:
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Ready to Reopen: A Playbook for Your Small Business (PDF)
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce: State-by-state reopening guidance