How to Increase Sales in the Time of
The world has been shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly every life and industry affected. Governments are working to keep their citizens safe while economies are struggling to stay stable. Small businesses around the world have been challenged financially, being forced to adapt to new forms of selling. As we navigate through the pandemic and prepare for its end, there’s several ways that businesses can strategize to make the most out of their situation.
1. Reevaluate Your Offering
It’s no secret that the onset of COVID-19 has changed how we live our lives every day. This is one thing that you cannot ignore when it comes to your customers. Some products you sell may be irrelevant to their needs, while others may be more important than ever. Ask yourself the following questions to determine what you should still be selling during and after the pandemic.
During the pandemic, you may be selling products that aren’t relevant to your customers anymore. For example, you may be selling travel or live event accessories or – travel and live events are extremely limited due to the pandemic, so you may not be selling many of those. To adapt to this and mitigate any lost sales, you may need to remove those products or alter them in a way that can adapt to at-home use.
A great example of adapting your products to customer’s needs is iHeartRaves. Their business mainly sells products for raves and live events, so to adapt to lockdown, they released a new “Cute & Cozy” collection.
Alternatively, once things start shifting back to a state of normalcy, you may find that some products you added to your store may no longer be needed by your customers. Many online stores started selling medical supplies, such as hand sanitizer and face masks, once the pandemic began to meet a need in the market. Once the pandemic begins to wind down, determine if those products are still appropriate to sell and if they should become permanent fixtures of your inventory.
Think about how the pandemic has affected your customers and how their needs may have changed. As we mentioned, many online stores may feel the need to add medical and cleansing supplies – it’s hard to ignore the massive boom that’s being seen among those products online. However, you should only add these products to your inventory if it makes sense for your business. If your online store sells books, it may not make sense to add hand sanitizer to your product offering.
However, face masks are extremely versatile, and can even be advertised as fashion accessories. This makes face masks a good way to meet customer’s new needs while also maintaining your brand.
Arm the Animals, an activist fashion brand, combined the trend of face masks with their animal-focused message.
You may also find interesting: The Importance of eCommerce to the Fashion and Apparel Industry
If your business has a physical presence, it’s vital that you begin to move your business to online if you haven’t already. Take the time to build an online store that makes it easy for your customers to get what they need from your business without risking their health. An online store can be helpful in the long run as well. In fact, eCommerce sales are expected to rise to $4.88 trillion by 2021. With an online store, you won’t have to worry about decreased foot traffic or lockdowns having a negative effect on your business.
You can also use an online store to offer in-store or curbside pickup to your customers. This gives customers the option to buy from your store in a safer way, but still get their products quickly and without a delivery fee. According to Invesp, 65% of consumers already prefer to buy online and pick up in store to avoid shipping costs.
It goes without saying that we live in confusing times. It’s extremely valuable to your customers that you bring a sense of clarity with your service. Whether customers need help processing a return or finding a product that they need, extending the reach of your customer service can make a huge difference. In research from American Express, it was found that 7 out of 10 U.S. customers state that they’ve spent more money to do business with a company that offers great customer service.
Here’s a few ways that you can improve your customer service during and after the pandemic:
- Offer longer customer service office hours. This can help make up for the fact that customers cannot see you physically.
- Use more channels to increase your online support. Maintain availability on multiple channels, including phone, live chat, email, and even social media.
- Create more resources for self-service support. Put together a comprehensive knowledge base, glossary, How-To tutorials, and more to help customers.
- Be honest regarding expected wait and delivery times. This is especially important if your staff has been limited or is working from home due to the pandemic. Delivery times have also been delayed around the world – inform customers of how you’re handling this issue.
During and after the pandemic, it’s crucial that your business is constantly communicating with your audience. Businesses and customers are both experiencing many changes in their day-to-day life, whether it’s financial struggle or a simple change of routine.
According to research by 4 A’s, 43% of consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands that they know and trust during this time.
Utilize your messaging channels, including social media, to inform customers about what’s changing (and staying the same) with your business. This includes the following:
- Will all products still be available?
- Are you halting delivery to any countries or areas?
- Will there be any delays on production?
- What is the updated expected delivery time for products?
- How are you keeping customers and staff safe?
- What services are returning as the pandemic winds down?
By opening up a dialogue with your customers, you can gauge what changes they’d like to see your business make and respond to that valuable feedback. Make it clear that you care about more than just a customer’s wallet, and that you’re passionate about how you can help them in a meaningful way.
If you had no crisis plan in place before the pandemic, then your business may have been caught off guard and suffered as a result. There’s no better time than the present to start planning on how you’ll be approaching the rest of the pandemic and how you’ll be returning back to normal once it’s over.
Of course, the pandemic has been largely unpredictable, with lockdowns starting and ending quickly. It’s impossible to plan with specific dates for reopening, so give your plan room to change if the situation alters at all. While we all want to increase sales, we also don’t want to lose sales either – look at what your business is doing right now and locate any weak points.
To start your plan, perform an audit of your business. Where are you losing sales, where are you gaining sales, and where have you stagnated? Determine how COVID-19 has impacted your business and industry as a whole and take measures to mitigate the damage. Focus on these key elements:
- Remote employee productivity and collaboration
- Disrupted supply chains and operations
- Tax and trade issues due to country lockdowns
- Brand response to COVID-19
- Postponed projects and campaigns
- New projects that address staff and customer needs
- Emergency funding and debt-relief grants
You’ll also want to monitor how your country is approaching its economy and travel, as this can directly affect your business during and after the pandemic. The decisions of your country’s government can influence the decisions of your business, so stay aware of all changes.
One of the first things you should have done once the pandemic began was comb through your existing marketing messaging and remove anything irrelevant or inappropriate. If you haven’t already, look through all of your scheduled campaigns, social media posts, and email marketing to determine what needs to be removed or changed. It’s also a good idea to think about your you can integrate distancing or health safety into your current marketing while maintaining relevancy.
Beyond content is the tone of your messaging. As we move closer to the end of the pandemic, we may be able to shift our tone back to normal, but you should still stay aware of how you’re speaking to potential and existing customers. Utilize these methods:
- Your messaging should be accurate and clear regarding the pandemic.
- Adopt a sympathetic tone, as many customers may also be experiencing hardships at this time.
- Avoid making jokes about the situation or approaching the pandemic with inappropriate humor.
- Don’t be serious all the time – a lot of people need a smile during these times. If your business can provide that, customers will remember you.
Your customers will be expecting your brand’s response to COVID-19. It’s vital that you do not use the pandemic as an excuse to advertise your products. Instead, brainstorm how you can offer assistance through your services, rather than capitalize on an unfortunate situation. It may be tempting to increase your sales this way, but customers can tell when you’re taking advantage of a difficult time.
If you’re running paid ads, you need to keep them all up to date regarding your inventory. You don’t want to be advertising products that are discontinued or out of stock. It may be a good idea to pause or lower the budget on most of your paid ad campaigns if you’re struggling financially due to the pandemic. Luckily, you can still advertise your business for free utilizing SEO. Let’s talk about that further.
Your business should already be optimizing for search engines if you have an online presence. During the pandemic, it’s newly important that your business appear high up on search engines when interested customers search for your products. You can’t rely on customers walking past your physical store during the pandemic, so you need to compensate for that lost foot traffic with increased online traffic.
More people are shopping online during the pandemic than ever before, and there’s no sign of this trend stopping once the pandemic is over. However, SEO looks a lot different during the pandemic for small businesses selling non-essential items. Namely, searchers are looking for answers to news and health-related questions rather than products. This is not to say that SEO still isn’t important for small businesses – it just means that you’ll need to take a different approach to optimization so as not to be drowned out.
SEO is an extremely dense topic with many varying aspects and methods, so we’ll cover the most important things you should optimize for during and after the pandemic.
- Improve your page and site load speed. This makes it easier for customers to quickly navigate your store and find the products you need. It also helps you rank higher, as Google factors in loading times when ranking.
- Target search terms related to COVID-19 if they are relevant to your business. Many more people are flocking to search engines to find information on the pandemic rather than other channels.
- Create and update evergreen content within your niche. This will stay relevant over time regardless of the current trend and build trust among your base, eventually turning interested visitors into customers.
- Update your Google My Business listing and optimize for local search. If you have an open physical business, this helps searchers find your business as it shows up on “near me” and “open now” queries. Alternatively, if you’ve had to close your physical business, you can use local search to direct customers to your online store.
- Keep tabs on your online shop’s SEO performance. No SEO-improvement strategy would be complete without a way to track your progress. Make use of the key eCommerce metrics in Google Analytics to understand the impact of your optimizations.
6. Build Rapport with Customers through Personalisation to Increase Conversions
Personalisation is a bit of a buzzword in retail right now. Essentially, it means you (the retailer) know who the customer is and tailor the shopping experience to suit them based on the data you’ve collected on them previously. There are lots of very clever (and expensive) AI-powered platforms out there with algorithms that claim to help you figure these things out and increase sales in your retail stores. But how about letting the customer tell you who they are and what they want?
One of the major advantages of enabling a customer to message a store via Facebook Messenger, for example, is that you get their name and profile picture along with the query. In an instant, your store associate goes from a position of not knowing the customer existed to a place where they know the customer’s name, what they’re looking for and even what they look like. This creates a situation where the staff member can actually approach a customer when they enter the store while maintaining social distance, greet them by name and then show them to the product. This sort of interaction will boost conversions dramatically, which is one of the key ways to increase retail sales without increasing footfall.
You can improve the level of personalisation by enabling communication via video, which is easily done within messaging apps. Imagine a customer sending a video message to a tailor where he shows the dress his wife is planning to wear for an upcoming wedding and explains that he’s looking for a tie to go with it. The store associate could send a video reply showing the range of ties that he thinks would work best. This brings us into the realm of clienteling and virtual selling, which is the ultimate form of personalisation and is becoming more widespread in the post-lockdown retail environment.
Resolving customer complaints quickly is one of the most effective ways to improve customer loyalty. The results of this study published on Harvard Business Review shows how customers who have complaints resolved quickly are willing to pay higher prices to the company going forward. It also suggests speedy complaint resolution can result in NPS increases of up to 59 points, which is staggering.
There’s one use case where messaging really comes into its own regarding complaint resolution. Many of the complaints retail chains receive on social networks like Twitter relate to something that happened in a particular store. This creates a challenge for the social media team. How do they efficiently handle the complaint when they have no idea what happened in the store? The standard operating procedure is to tell the customer to return to the store or to ask them for their details (i.e. phone or email) so the store manager can contact them. Neither option is particularly satisfactory from a customer point of view. They didn’t contact you via Twitter to get fobbed off onto email.
An alternative and much-improved option would be to have the customer send your social media team a direct message and then transfer the chat to the store manager. He can then resolve the complaint via direct messages with the customer. This is more efficient for your staff and a significantly better experience for the customer.
8. Improve the sales experience.
At the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, many organizations adapted by moving sales interactions to videoconference or phone. But the longer-term opportunity is to rethink how to use these platforms to improve, not just sustain, the sales experience — creating value and providing differentiation with prospects and clients to make the whole experience more compelling. To do this, consider new opportunities to help customers recognize issues and identify opportunities they hadn’t considered. With video and phone, it’s easier than ever to involve “Subject Matter Experts,” implementation or customer support staff, and other functions earlier in the sales process to provide deeper expertise and greater insight. Videoconferencing also makes it easier to involve company leaders with customers to address problems and provide higher-level connections and executive sponsorship. In a Fortune 100 technology company I worked with, when there was executive-to-executive level engagement with a client, accounts produced 38% more revenue than those where no executive level relationships existed.
Now is the time to rethink how your sales experience can deliver value for potential customers as a key element of your strategy in the Covid-19 world. Design a sales experience that helps customers gain insight about challenges and opportunities created by the virus. For instance, a consumer packaged-goods client of mine created an interactive customer forum aimed at revealing opportunities and trends their clients may be able to capitalize on. Other companies have produced videos for clients to help them think through the implications of the new problems they’re facing. I’ve also attended live Q&A webinars that give potential and existing customers the chance to interact with your company and learn from each other.
The switch to remote work and virtual interactions may result in unexpected efficiencies — both in time and resources — that help you improve proactive customer outreach and create a whole new sales and customer experience. A fun example of this happened when my family ordered take-out for dinner from a local Italian restaurant during the height of the pandemic lockdown. Along with our dinner, we received a roll of toilet paper branded with the restaurant’s logo, which was an incredibly valuable and unexpected add-on at that time. When everyone was struggling to find toilet paper in the stores, this restaurant that had an excess of toilet paper because they could not serve dine-in guests, seized on an opportunity to create an exceptional customer service experience. Needless to say, we ordered several more meals from the restaurant in the following weeks!
9. Harness email marketing
Email marketing is a highly cost-effective marketing channel, making businesses an average of $42 on the $1.
Seeing as Americans spend nearly five hours per day on their email, it’s a great communication channel to reach your client base regularly.
The most prosperous email campaigns include interactive elements, video content, and competitions. Even including the term ‘video’ into your subject line can boost email open rates by 80%.
Whether you’re offering topic-focused content to educate your audience or a sales pitch to increase urgency, email marketing significantly heightens brand awareness.
Since email segmentation accounts for 58% of revenue, make sure to employ an effective email tracking system to analyze the performance of your emails to improve targeting.
CreativeLive’s email marketing campaigns during the coronavirus crisis have ranged from discounts to free giveaways, from sales announcements to contests.
Each type of content is segmented to convert various sectors of the photography company’s audience.
In-person gatherings have been banned due to the crisis. In response, the events industry has shifted online using social media live streams and webinar software.
Famous faces from Barack Obama to Lady Gaga have jumped on the bandwagon of online speaking and performing to protect their own legacies that are suffering due to social distancing restrictions.
You don’t have to be a keynote speaker to host an online event to drive profits. Offer customers ticketed webinars and workshops to help improve their knowledge or learn new skills.
Keap offers a whole catalog of webinars that give actionable advice and present useful tools for customers to grow their business during the crisis.
Their webinars demonstrate expertise, encouraging customers to trust them, their brand, and their products. This increases awareness and helps drive online sales.
One of Keap’s main impacts has been content marketing via its blogs, establishing thought leadership and increasing demand for more webinars