One of the biggest challenges to retail business has been the development of online sales— especially in the midst of COVID-19. With restrictions on store capacity and your local shopper’s own uncertainty, you may have wondered about whether—and how—to incorporate online sales as an adjunct to your own brick-and-mortar business.
It may not seem obvious right now, in light of any hits to your businesses’ bottom line, but there are ways of growing your store’s reach now and its enhanced customer service in the future.
I think that one of the common threads of the “bricks and mortar vs. retail” discussion is that there doesn’t have to be a split at all, as long your own store can meet the needs of its customers effectively and efficiently with an online presence.
One of the advantages you have over far too many of the sellers on Amazon is that you actually care about the quality of the products you sell. Too many of the merchants on Amazon have no regard for quality and are only interested in making a quick buck. They couldn’t care less about helping people.
Unfortunately, this has wide-ranging, negative effects. It perpetuates the sales of adulterated, bogus products, undermines the trust that customers could have in effective natural supplements, and paints the entire industry, manufacturers and retailers alike, in the worst possible light.
You can help change that. And part of that change is in finding ways to merge the brick and mortar and online aspects of your business.
I know that that seems like a tall order. The way that COVID-19 has affected the economy and public health is unprecedented in our lifetimes. But with your staff acting as a team of experts to help find workable solutions in these ever-changing situations, I think that a community-focused business can truly thrive.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as action items or aspirational goals to help make that happen:
Always update your social media presence: Updating your customers via social media is crucial. First, you’ll want to let your customers know about everything new that’s happening in your store—seasonal promos, new products, general health info—but you’ll also want to reassure them about your COVID-19 store procedures and simply let them know that you’re open for business. Most people go to their smartphones first when they want to look up a business, so it’s important to update posts consistently.
Combine in store sales promotions with social media contests and educational events. Almost everyone is doing online Zoom meetings and other outreach right now. It may be one way for your store to re-introduce educational events in a way that allows more people to “attend,” even if only virtually for the time being.
Stand by your products with guarantees: You can, and should, back all of your products with a money back guarantee; something that is not possible in most cases with online stores. Your customers already know you and your business, and sticking by the products you sell, you show confidence not only in those supplements, but also trust in your customers’ judgments and that you’re more likely to have a fruitful relationship with them in the future.
Promote the value of immediate service: At your brick-and-mortar store, your customers don’t have to wait for products. You can respond quickly but knowledgeably to online requests for products, and answer questions right away.
If your social media efforts and promotions get customers to try new products, you’ll need to make sure you have enough of these items in stock for shipment as well. It definitely requires thinking beyond the new “business as usual” regarding your regular customers and occasional walk-in customers.
You can work with your vendors for a generous return policy so that everyone is satisfied with their experience. Again, this is something that a big online channel is unlikely to cooperate with. But of course, they are not invested in your community the way that you are.
Keep offering curbside pickup—even during more “open” periods: Curbside pickup is now a conventional service in almost all of the retail world. I would recommend that you continue this option and promote it in every advertising outlet that you use, including – and especially – social media posts and the general information that comes up about your store on a Google search.
Continue to go the extra mile for your customers: Keep your customers happy by matching online discounts and have your own online branch of your store that can ship products to out-of-town customers and a delivery service for those who live close by. This can be another form of outreach, and a great way to make sure that your customers receive printed versions of your store’s newsletter (a must-do item to have online, by the way). It is a very personal touch to deliver someone’s order. It is especially effective advertising if you have signage on your delivery vehicle—and a great motivator to invest in a wrap that represents your business on your car or van.
Remember to capitalize on the fact that you and your staff are real experts—not algorithms. Nothing can match the personal touch when it comes to retail. For long time customers, you already have a built-in “database” you can draw from—your own experience and your personal conversations with many of these customers. Having cultivated that relationship, you can take it a step further and suggest new supplements and other products that would dovetail nicely with their existing regimens, or updates on some of their favorite products (or items from a preferred company they especially trust). This is the real way of making recommendations for your customers—one based on human trust and knowledge.
Online or In-store: Why Not Both?
To say that we’ve all had to make a lot of changes this past year is clearly a huge understatement. We’ve all been through something that hasn’t been seen in our country for 100 years. And for the time being, it seems like this is indeed “the new normal.”
So, it’s been tough, especially for health food stores across the country. Your customers rely on your expertise and relationship, and anything that interrupts that really affects their lives. You are essential in many ways.
But the benefits of online ordering, curbside pickup, and local delivery can’t be denied. The best bet is finding a way of combining the best of both. There’s no anonymity between you and your customers, as there is when ordering from major, big box online merchants. After all, a local store actually cares about helping people.
It may feel like a risk to invest time, money, and talent into creating a viable online option for your brick-and-mortar store. But I am convinced that it is well worth it and I think that when we come out of this and return to a more familiar mode of business, these enhancements to your store operations will absolutely yield amazing results. VR
A highly regarded leader in the natural products industry, Terry Lemerond is founder and president of EuroPharma, Inc. He also founded Enzymatic Therapy, Inc. and PhytoPharmica, Inc. and is currently co-owner of the Terry Naturally Health Food Store in Green Bay, WI, which recently won its sixth consecutive consumer choice award as “Best of the Bay.” With more than 40 years in the natural products industry, Lemerond has researched and developed more than 400 nutritional and botanical formulations that continue to be top-selling products in the market. Lemerond shares his wealth of experience and knowledge in health and nutrition through his educational programs, including the Terry Talks Nutrition website, newsletters, podcasts, webinars and personal speaking engagements. He is the author of two books: Seven Keys to Vibrant Health and the recently updated Seven Keys to Unlimited Personal Achievement.