Companies coping with Covid

How businesses survived the pandemic for a brighter virtual future.

The increasing shift to digital tools has sped up for businesses the world over, and everyday physical engagement has seemed a distant memory. The world has shown itself to be a scary place, but history has always shown us that crises often kickstart needed change. So while we are all hoping for a return to ‘normal’ soon, one of the many things that will be permanently altered is the way we do business.

Working for a digital agency, my bias leans towards getting businesses to run their shops online. However, living in rural Suffolk, most shops operate with a very small online presence, relying instead on locals and word of mouth to advertise them. They’ve been able to survive for so long because the nearest supermarket is a twenty minute drive away. Though recent circumstances has meant that some had to close their physical shops and were forced to find new ways of trading – and many got quite inventive. 

Corona isn’t leaving anytime soon. Some of the adaptations, marketing strategies and business ideas that have been particularly imaginative (on and offline) have been inspiring to say the least, so what follows is a guide compiled from the ‘best bits’ we’ve seen, which we hope you find inspiring.

Good ol’ fashioned paper rounds

Deliveries: not ‘inventive’ as such, but the community spirit was clear, as corner shops were quick to start a regular delivery service for essentials. I’m including this activity because it’s important to remember that not all your customers can come to your shop anyway, so by offering something as simple as a delivery service, you’re expanding who has access to you, with or without Covid.

What was quite inventive though was seeing Chapmans in Southwold filming their paper round every morning, so the community still got to see a familiar sight. Nice bit of marketing, taking people on a nostalgia trip with something comforting, simple and old fashioned, and a bit of needed interaction at the same time.

It was also clever of our local shops to team up and offer joint deliveries. I saw a local greengrocer and bakery arrange for customers to combine bread and pastry deliveries with their fruit and veg. The extra appeal was customers were then choosing to shop with them for ease.

Increased delivery services has also put competition on charging. It’s almost guaranteed that for everyone who is charging, there’s someone else around in the same market who isn’t. Petrol isn’t cheap but delivering is the ‘new normal’ so setting a radius for free delivery from your shop helps compromise on this front a little.

Remembering to supply your customers not as ‘tech savvy’ is important, as they are often your most loyal customers. Also, it is the more elderly population who like their traditions, so the likes of Cafe 51, who every Sunday drove round delivering pre-ordered roasts, made the week of a few of my locals.

Some businesses quickly had their website platforms amended or redeveloped, but some such as Fleetwood Butchers used their Facebook page to supply their customers, posting their stock on everyday, then asking customers to message in their requests.

Friday night, takeout night

Now obviously, takeaways are also nothing new, and most families have a particular night where they order from their local food joint. However, the last few months saw many more traditional restaurants get in on the delivery game. So rather than missing out with the closure of dine-in establishments, they instead opened up to the stay at home diners – a nice way to give small yet familiar comfort during lockdown.

Many local pubs have been doing takeaways of Sunday roasts, burgers and ales. But my local, The Nelson, opened up their windows and pushed a table in front, creating a kind of street bar (and for anyone like my dad who struggles to go longer than a week without a good pint, this was a lifesaver!).

Cuba Revolucion also answered the call by offering home rum tasting kits, with an Instagram livestream for people to taste together and chat. Others soon followed with ‘make your own cocktail’ takeouts, as well as ‘meal construction kits’, such as the The Two Magpies ‘bake your own’ kits and various other dishes people would be missing during lockdown, all with a hashtag to match.

What we have seen overall, is the desire to interact and feel a part of something, enhancing the importance of good social channels. Something as simple as having a good Facebook group, a livestream or a hashtag created a community of people committed to your product.

Making an event into a sales tactic might seem in bad taste, but it’s been used as a way for suppliers to show customers how they can answer their problems during a crisis. ‘50% off corona essentials’ or ‘free delivery during lockdown’ helped customers to see where they can get the best deals which at a time of financial uncertainty and furloughing is at the forefront of people’s minds.

Bundle packages

My favourite offers have been the bundle packages, because I’m a sucker for a bargain. Butchers such as Cleveley’s have been offering deli/pantry boxes and Cafe 51 offered afternoon tea and father’s day cream tea packages. Again this comes back to the small comforts making life better in lockdown, something as simple as an afternoon tea makes life so much easier as you don’t have to commit to an ‘essential food shop’ to collect the components, and be disappointed to not get everything in your supermarket shop. 

In fact, the new idea of an ‘essential food shop’ is one to make you shudder at the thought of two hour queues and social distancing. Once again, this is where the smaller independent and farm shops in my  trusty village have shown themselves to be adaptable, never once running out of stock – in fact they had more than usual. They realised what people were struggling to find and made sure they could cater for demand, with their local retailers having much stronger supply chains than some of those supplying global supermarkets in rural areas. Again, here is where The Two Magpie Bakery offered butter, milk and cheese from their dairy supplier. They saw a demand in the market and adapted quickly to demand by using their local connections.

‘The virtual new world’

Facebook marketplace, Depop and eBay have for decades been part of our daily lives. However, Covid has meant many bricks and mortar businesses whose physical shopfront has always taken priority over online selling have finally stepped up to the job they’ve been putting off for years. Many have converted to online selling, and even whole street markets have moved online.

This idea of ‘a new world’ has been taken quite literally by clothes shop ‘Collen and Clare’ who have created a shopping experience where you ring up then choose a time to have the store to yourself and a personal shopper. I think this is a brilliant invention and shows that just because you have a small shop, doesn’t mean you can’t social distance. Other markets in this ‘new world’ include estate agents like ‘Sowerbys’ who have been doing ‘online viewings’ where you take a virtual tour of their houses – brilliant!

In Norwich, multiple markets including the Fierce Babe Spring Market and the Handmade and Creative Market moved online. Creators post their goods on the Facebook event page, then customers can comment on the post to buy it, all taking place between a set time as if in a real market. If you think about it, this is so simple – but by hosting an online market, they are providing many different vendors with a way of selling their products which they might have completely lost if not, and all whilst attracting hundreds to the event. The possibilities are great, because the virtual space is so much bigger than one shop, and a consumer may be drawn to an item they would have never seen or looked for.

Along similar lines, a photography workshop ran completely online by Justin Minns photography, taking you through the processing stages and helping you refine your photos. While hairdressers ‘Chopp Hair salon’ has been delivering treatments to people’s homes then showing them how to use them over Facetime (something I am in desperate need of now!). Added to this, a friend of a friend had her hairdresser do a one on one tutorial to help her cut her fringe. 

More personal to me, I have taken part in online music tuition and horse-riding coaching, having someone film me while my coach spoke to me through headphones from their home. Just because your business relies on face-face contact, doesn’t mean it has to stop – get inventive!

Digital marketing for beginners

Companies who are able to respond to changes by adapting and evolving quickly are the ones who generally show themselves to have a higher chance of surviving any unexpected market changes. Often it’s been technology that has presented challenges to the high-street, scuppering businesses who’s practises have been locked in to inflexible and old fashioned models. 

Ultimately, Covid is going to be with us for a while and, while I’m fed up of hearing it, businesses are going to have to evolve to a more virtual way of selling to survive. Whether you’re delivering, offering takeout, or using social media as a digital shop, you need to branch out digitally to reach as many people as you can.

For small and local businesses, number one in the diagram is the easiest win. In communities, where everyone knows everyone, they don’t want you to be any different. Small things like Chapmans posting those daily updates can increase trust in you, encourage them to follow you, then ultimately, shop from you.

Written by Tilly Farrands, Sales and Events Coordinator at Phlashweb

If you need help setting up your online presence or making the most out of what you already have, get in touch to see how we can help. Alternatively, we run webinars on managing your business remotely. Find out about attending here.

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