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Courtesy of Covid-19 - It's a New Vitual World

  • May 4, 2020
  • Written by Community Futures Meridian

Whether we like it or not the world of small business will never go back to normal. We may think it will but Covid-19 has changed more than just the economy; it has changed the way consumers think and act. Sure, we all knew that the spectre of Amazon was looming over small business and that more people were beginning to shop online but it was at least somewhat limited to specific types of items with things like books, gadgets, video games and small electronics topping the list. But now, the cat is firmly out of the bag and almost anything and everything is being purchased online out of necessity. Not everything is being delivered to our door of course; stores such as  Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Lowes, Canadian Superstore and hundreds of others are offering curbside pickup. Retailers everywhere are playing the new and not-so-fun game called: Online Catch-up.

Many small and micro-businesses have a website, but far fewer have a full e-commerce site. This means operating in the new self-isolation, social distancing reality has been tough. The reality is that if you do not have an online presence, now is the time to play the catch-up game.

Consumers are quickly getting used to shopping online for many things they may have avoided in the past and it’s not just shopping. We know consumers were already moving toward online shopping; now, that gradual trend will become a stampede. Whereas before the pandemic a minority were having their groceries delivered or ordering wine from a local wine store and having shipped to their home, now those services are overwhelmed. Grocery stores are quoting delivery in weeks not 24-hours as they were prior to Covid and a major wine emporium is quoting a month or more. Several weeks ago, it was hard to find someone you knew who had tried visiting a doctor online; today these services are crazy busy. Today, people are even buying cars online and having them delivered to their home. Realtors are carrying our virtual tours of homes for sale. Gyms and fitness centres are offering virtual sessions. The list is endless; wherever possible companies have quickly switched to online sales and service and virtual interaction.

If you are small business pinning your hopes on waiting out the storm until things go back to normal, don’t hold your breath. While a sense of normalcy will occur once restrictions are lifted, we won’t see everything ease until a vaccine is found. And, even then consumers will not return to what we used to call normal. The new reality requires business owners to be more innovative than ever before. Finding a new way to interact with customers is going to be imperative. If you as an owner or manager are less than tech savvy, now is the time to play catch up and fast. Ask yourself, how can your company meet the new needs of people in the current pandemic situation? The companies who succeed will be those who are the most flexible, innovative, and willing to adapt.

Those restaurants who are offering takeout and delivery are surviving. One small-town gourmet pizza restaurant reported having five drivers working and said they were unable to keep up with demand. Another independent hardware store quickly got a limited online store up and running albeit with a fraction of their inventory featured. They offered curbside pickup. Complementing this was a concierge service whereby customer could call in and discuss their needs with a “personal shopper,” make purchases and have them delivered or pick them up. Ask yourself, is there anything I can do to meet the needs of my customers, even if it's not exactly what I used to offer?

Think about how you can adapt what you sell to the new digital, virtual world or you might simply have to close up shop. If technology scares you or building a full e-commerce site is beyond your means, try creating a limited list of your most popular products and mail or email it to your customers, or advertise in local newspapers, telling them you are open for business and they can call in their orders and get curbside pickup or offer delivery.

Despite the massive detrimental effect Covid-19 is having on the economy, and especially small businesses, some companies will rebound quicker than others. Some will have suffered less, and in a post-pandemic world they could actually find themselves stronger and more ready to face a new world where bricks and mortar and face-to-face interaction is no longer the most successful, or at least only way to do business.

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