13 Experts Share Their Top Advice for Struggling Brick and Mortar Retailers

This article is part of Raydiant’s Coronavirus Small Business Resource Center which aims to provide actionable insights, ideas, and resources to business owners struggling due to the current Coronavirus outbreak.

We’ve collaborated with different executives, business owners, and thought leaders to crowdsource insights and expertise that will ensure this content is as actionable, timely, and helpful as possible.

If you are a business owner looking for a specific question to be answered or if you an expert and would like to have your insights included, please email Emilia@Raydiant.com.

What advice do you have for brick and mortar retailers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak?

Eric Goldschein, Content Partnerships Editor, Fundera

"For brick and mortar retailers impacted by the coronavirus, it’s important to communicate effectively with your customers about how your business is addressing these challenges. If you’re closing your storefront, reassure your customers that you’re closing for their safety and remind them that you’re still there for them–whether it’s online, through gift cards, via social media, or by curbside pick up. If your store remains open, educate them on the precautions your business is taking to ensure the safety of its customers in detail so they know they can still use your store as a resource. Be sure to include a dedicated email and phone number for customer’s individual inquiries if you can."

Another action that retailers can take is contacting their top vendors and suppliers. Check in to see what’s happening on their end, and let them know what’s going on with your store. If there are products for your store that you have on reorder, pause those orders for the time being or ask the supplier to reach out before they ship. This can help your business adjust to fluctuations in demand and mitigate your costs in the meantime.

Cate Trotter, Head of Trends, Insider Trends

"It’s important to balance short-term agility with long-term reflection."

With the situation changing daily, a flexible mindset is vital. Take note of how customer spending habits are changing now – and assess which new habits may stick around for the long term. Not everyone will go back to the old way of doing things when things return to normal.

Now is the time to embrace and enhance digital selling and interaction. It will help in both the short- and long-term. If you’re used to communicating with customers face-to-face, experiment with supporting and entertaining customers through social media and video. Which staff members would love to run tutorials, Q&As and challenges from home?

Even if you’re not currently selling online, it can be very quick to set up. Some big brands that swore they’d never get into ecommerce have set up operations in 7 days.

Siddhartha Gupta, CEO of Mettl

"Stronger Communication: Now that social distancing and mobility lockdown runs the order of the day, brick and mortar retailers are forced and complied to shut down their business. It’s a difficult time for your customers as well as you, but it’s critical to keep them in the loop. There’s no more important than time than this to leverage effective communication to keep your customers and employees engaged. Let them know through your social media posts, WhatsApp messages, and emails why you have decided to shut down when you are likely to open, what practices are you implementing to keep your employees safe and paid at this time."

Scenario Planning: Physical stores can take this time to plan for any eventuality as this Coronavirus-led disruption seems to be stretching indefinitely. Test your short, mid, and long-term scenario and contingency plans. What to do if this continues for 8 weeks before it’s contained, how will you run your business, can you go and develop an app and share push notifications with your customers, can you rope in shipping partners or partner with online websites to display and sell your inventory.

Shaun Savage, CEO and Founder, GoShare

"At a time when customers are unable to visit brick and mortar stores to obtain goods and services, these retailers need to figure out a way to bring the goods to them. Customers are still spending. E-commerce is booming and top items are selling out online. In order to win back some of that business, you should begin offering no-contact delivery and pickup to your customers."

Retailers can take a page out of the restaurant industry’s playbook right now. Restaurants are allowing eaters to pick up their orders, or offering delivery options through app partnerships. Allow your customers to pick up their prepackaged orders by pulling into designated parking spaces at the front of the store. Or, better yet, drop it on their doorstep. You can use employees to make these deliveries or partner with an on-demand delivery app that specializes in last mile.

Post online and send out emails, let your customers know you are still able to fulfill their orders. If you have an online portal, allow them to order online for pickup and delivery. If you don’t, start with phone orders. You can support your community and keep your lights on by offering no-contact options to distribute your goods.

DeAnna J. McIntosh, Global Retail and E-commerce Consultant, Founder of The Affinity Group International

"My advice for brick and mortar retailers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak is to stop and outline the business areas that will be impacted. Next, assess each area and create a detailed plan of action, with steps listed from highest to lowest priority. It’s critical to focus on the 20% of your efforts/products likely driving 80% of your sales."

Financial & Inventory Planning: analyze your financial plans and adjust for the decrease in sales you’ll experience. This provides a real-time picture of your business health, and show where the biggest risks are.

Supply Chain: Have direct and meaningful conversations with your vendors about product risk levels.

Sampling: evaluate the risk of future deliveries, and explore 3D sampling.

Buying & Sourcing: conduct virtual vendor appointments, work with local brands to fulfill inventory gaps.

Marketing: Sell the lifestyle of your shop & evoke emotion vs. products. Explore home & curbside delivery.

Staffing: try to keep management intact to avoid major training expense post-virus.

Toopan Bagchi, Senior Advisor of The Navio Group

"Times of crisis are a great reminder that physical retail plays a vital, potentially lifesaving role in communities. However, the spike in demand can lead to shortages and price gouging by opportunistic players. Brands and retailers that seek to deepen trust and loyalty are wise to avoid that and take the long view instead. There are three ways brick-and-mortar retailers can serve their shoppers instead. First, establishing limits on essential items, as Target has done, ensures more customers have access to needed goods. Second, tapping into the full power of supply chain and operations moves product to where it’s needed most. Walmart has beaten the National Guard to disaster areas with supplies. Third, novel partnerships with military, government, non-profits, and medical partners could help get critical items where they are needed most."

Meaghan Brophy, Retail Analyst, FitSmallBusiness.com

"If you haven’t already, start an online store. Square and other providers make it easy to set up free eCommerce sites. Once your site has gone live, email your customers to inform them of how your business has been impacted and what they can do to help support your business during the pandemic. Providing clarity to things business elements like in-person pick-ups and online orders will go a long way. It goes without saying, but it’s crucial to update your store hours on all of your social media handles. Lastly, add a Q&A section featuring your adjusted operating procedures on your Google My Business page."

Esther Meyer, Marketing Manager, GroomsShop

"In this age of eCommerce, brick-and-mortar stores are still afloat because 49% of the Americans prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores. However, due to the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus which looks like it’s not going to end anytime soon, these physical stores are taking the blow."

Here are some options to consider to soften the blow:

Deliver: Opt for delivery services during this time. Do the advertising online and have a chat team available to answer queries and arrange transactions.

Offer cashless payment: One of the suspected carriers of the virus is banknotes. If you offer cashless payment in your store, people are more likely to feel safe in your store.

Obtain goodwill: This is the perfect time to show people that you are not only after profits. Do charity work during this trying time and you’ll get people on your side soon.

Jake Rheude, VP of Marketing at Red Stag Fulfillment

"Being in bring and mortar retail right now is a scary time. We have all seen businesses on our local main streets shuttering within just a matter of weeks without any cash flow as customer traffic grinds to a halt. Here’s what you should do if you’re in this situation:"

1. If you’re renting out your space, talk to your landlord and see if you can negotiate a temporary freeze on rent. Landlords are people too! Especially if you have an established history with them and have been diligent about paying rent on time and haven’t caused any problems, now is the time to ask. For all we know, the quarantines might only last another month or so; if that’s what it takes to keep you above water, don’t be shy.

2. If you don’t operate online already, now is the time. There are plenty of guides and courses to starting your own e-commerce business. Platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce are specifically designed for people who are not very internet savvy!

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder and CEO, Mavens & Moguls

"Authentic relationships beat marketing automation technology runs our lives more than ever but it is relationships that drive business and commerce so people will find more ways to connect in-person to build trust and strengthen connections. Make sure you offer several ways to talk with them and get to know them. Algorithms can only tell you so much about a customer, transactions are driven by relationships. Use automation where you can but do not ignore the power of the personal touch even if it is virtual."

Alexandr Galkin, CEO at Competera

"Coronavirus is shaping an absolutely novel context for brick-and-mortar retailers worldwide. Transformations are inevitable. That’s why the sooner retailers will adjust to the new reality, the better."

Ensuring safe working conditions should be the priority as human contacts cannot be fully omitted in retail. Then, diversify and secure your distribution channels. Third, revise budgeting policy to prioritize digital channels. As online sales are continuing to grow across the industries, this pattern is likely to remain the same even after the coronavirus crisis over.

And finally, consider partnering with delivery aggregators or find any other means to make sure your products are smoothly delivered to shoppers.

Celeste Huffman, Marketing Team, Rogers and Hollands

"Stay in constant communication with your customers. This can be done through email campaigns with updates about the current situation, through SMS if you have a text subscriber list, posts through social media including Facebook and Instagram multiple times per day, and lastly through using the post feature on Google My Business, which is especially important for those looking to see if their local store is open. Using these strategies can help you weather the storm and get your customers purchasing from you once the outbreak is over."

Quinn Dolan, Senior Manager of Search & Social Advertising at Perfect Search Media

"Google recently encouraged businesses affected by the coronavirus to update their listings on Google My Business."

In a time where misinformation abounds, it’s critical to provide your customers with accurate information whenever possible. Consequently, we recommend reviewing your listings and updating things like hours, descriptions, and phone numbers. Businesses can even use Google Posts to share additional information, if necessary.