All is Not Lost: A Coronavirus Marketing Plan for Your Retail Business

The world is reeling from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. To try and help at this difficult time, we've put together an action plan; a series of simple, actionable steps that you can start on today to make a difference in your business.

The world is reeling from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, as governments scramble to contain the threat and people struggle with the "new normal" - a combination of social distancing, event cancellations and economic insecurity.

It's no surprise that businesses are suffering. We've seen the impacts on the retail and hospitality sectors, as they rely heavily on physical customers in-store. As a small business too this worries us, and yet we feel helpless to do anything.

We realised that there is one thing we can do to help, in our own small way. Sharing our knowledge and expertise is one thing we can do to help arm our local SMBs with the tools to help them come through this unprecedented situation.

The result is this: we've put together an action plan; a series of simple, actionable steps that you can start on today to make a difference in your business. This is general advice (and specific solutions will vary from business to business), but it contains a range of achievable DIY solutions that can help most retail and hospitality businesses.

We've come up with a set of simple action points covering the "Three S's - Store, Social and Search":

  1. Store: making the in store experience safe and providing alternatives to a physical visit.
  2. Social: engaging with our existing customers and leveraging their support.
  3. Search: helping our customers find us online.

Start by improving the in-store experience

1. Store

The coronavirus pandemic is creating different challenges for retailers. Some are being overwhelmed by panic buying and the problems this causes in-store (supply chain issues, empty shelves, customer stress). Other retailers are experiencing lower customer volumes, as people switch to stocking up on food and essentials.

The key to increasing customer confidence is to make your in-store experience as safe as possible. Retailers can also provide alternative options such as phone or online shopping - with home delivery where this is feasible.

Customer safety - making the in-store experience safer

As this crisis slowly unfolds over the coming weeks and months, people will still need to shop, meet with friends and share experiences in public spaces. By making the in-store experience safe as possible you will give people the confidence to visit your store.

Here's what you can do:

  1. Make hand sanitiser readily available. Place pump packs in convenient reach for customer and staff use.
  2. Implement cleaning and sanitation measures. Encourage staff to actively clean high risk areas and wipe down high contact surfaces between customer engagements.
  3. Facilitate social distancing. Space out tables, and have signage and staff encouraging clients to maintain the appropriate distancing in queues.

For more information, please refer to the Australian government's resources below:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Information on social distancing

Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources

Online store - shifting your sales to the internet

If possible, sell your products through an online store. This allows your customers to support you without having to visit your physical store. Here are some things you can think about in terms of shifting your business operations online (or increasing your current online revenues) while the coronavirus crisis unfolds.

  1. Sell your products or services online. You might be surprised by what can be sold online. Even lunch orders can be purchased online these days, so you might be able to come up with creative ways to serve your customers via the internet.
  2. You don't need a massive budget for web development. Shopify allows users to quickly and easily set up an online store, using a range of free and premium themes. It doesn't need to look perfect - focus on basic functionality.
  3. Already have an online store? It could be a good time to give it a bit more love. Make sure everything is working properly, and check to make sure that all of your products and prices are up to date.

Need some help getting started? Shopify has a fantastic online tutorial, with step by step instructions showing how to set up your online store:

Shopify Tutorial - How Does It Work? Learn To Use Shopify (Step-by-Step)

Home delivery - minimise the need for in-store visits

Another option is to set up a home delivery service that doesn't require in-store visits. Uber Eats and Menulog are a great way for restaurants and cafes to deliver food to customers. You could also partner with a local courier or do your own deliveries to fulfil orders.

  1. Set up an account with Uber Eats and Menulog. If you are a restaurant or cafe you could sign up with the popular food delivery services. Both Uber Eats and Menulog are currently available in Bendigo.
  2. Consider offering phone ordering directly through your store. Payment can be handled over the phone or made on delivery with a mobile EFTPOS machine.
  3. Partner with a local courier to deliver to your customers. Or, simply do it yourself if you have the capacity.

Here's some more information about home delivery options that you can explore:

Uber Eats Earn Money by Driving or Get a Ride Now

Menulog Partner with us 

Local courier A & J Couriers

Leverage the power of social media to connect with your customers

2. Social

Your existing customers are the greatest opportunity for future business growth. They already love and support you, and will advocate for your business in this time of need. Keep the communication going over social media, and don't be afraid to ask for their help.

Engage your audience - stay connected and keep talking

Now is a great time to increase the number of social media posts you are doing, to engage with your customer base. Recognise that even if they are unable to visit your store, they are still valued customers who want to know how you are doing.

  1. Post more regular updates. At least twice a week is ideal and you could easily post daily without overwhelming your audience. Posts can be simple updates as to what you are doing, latest specials, new products etc. Try to keep it lighthearted, because people are seeing a lot of doom and gloom in their newsfeeds.
  2. Consider your audience's state of mind. Think about how they are feeling, what they are doing and post content that they will be interested in, at a time that they will see it. For example, business-oriented retailers might post early in the morning when people have just started work, while cafes might post mid-morning when people are getting peckish.
  3. Stay professional and on-brand. It is okay to post content related to current events or to use humour, but you need to be careful around posting personal opinions and be sure that all of your posts are ‘on brand' in terms of supporting what your store is about.

Need some tips to help get better social media engagement? HubSpot knows their stuff:

5 Proven Social Media Engagement Strategies for 2020

Communicate changes - people need information right now

People are feeling uncertain right now, so it's important to make sure they have the information they need to feel empowered and in control. Communicate with your audience about coronavirus related changes and how it is impacting your business. 

Your customers want to know what is going on and you can reassure them by letting them know what is happening. Don't be afraid to show vulnerability, or to let them know if things are difficult right now. They'll appreciate that you're keeping it real.

  1. Communicate in-store changes. Let them know if it's safe to visit, what measures have been taken and when to stay away. The situation is fluid, so you may need to change and communicate updates as they happen.
  2. Alert your customers about new initiatives or opportunities. Your existing followers want to help, and they will be the ones most likely to embrace your new phone ordering, home delivery or online store. 
  3. Discuss the impact of coronavirus. If your business is suffering, don't be afraid to let your customers know. Tell them what has changed and how they can help. As always, stay professional and considerate of the hardships the wider community is facing.

Need help with sensitive messaging? Check out this HootSuite article on using social media in times of crisis:

How to Manage a Social Media Crisis: A Practical Guide for Brands

Promote locally - use social media to signal boost your business

As our shopping circles get smaller, it makes sense to promote your business and initiatives to the local community. If your audience has a persistent need for what you're offering at this time, it might be wise to invest in small-scale targeted advertising to promote your products and services.

  1. Boost high-value posts. Select some of your most successful or vital posts and use Facebook's post boost feature to increase the reach of the messages.
  2. Focus your target audience. When advertising, be sure to scale down your target audience to the local area, and ideally set up a custom audience that further filters the audience to specific demographics (e.g. mums for your kids-wear store). This will ensure that your budget is spent optimally, with minimal wastage.
  3. Setup a campaign in Business Manager. If you have the time, it is worthwhile to set up a Facebook Business Manager account and learn how to create custom campaigns; it will open up even better ad creative options (such as carousel ads, page like campaigns, AB split testing) and audience targeting choices.

Here are some links to help you get started:

 The Facebook Boost Post Button: How to Use it and Get Results

Facebook Ads Custom Audiences - Everything you need to know!

How to Use Facebook Business Manager: A Step-by-Step Guide

Increase your online presence with greater Google search visibility

3. Search

So you've helped make the in-store experience safer for your customers, and you've engaged with your existing customers. With the economic outlook still uncertain, it's the perfect time to find new customers - or more accurately, to help them find you.

With reduced foot traffic and less casual shopping in person, there will be an increase in online search activity, as those people who may have just have "popped down to the shops" at any other time choose instead to look online for the things they need.

You'll want people to be able to easily find your business when they are searching for your product or service. This is always important, but in this time of upheaval it will become of even greater importance - especially for retailers who are seeing a decline.

Search engine optimisation is highly complex and can take a long time to deliver results, so we have chosen here to focus on a small handful of actions that can be implemented right away, and will deliver immediate results.

Improve your Google My Business

Create, claim or update your business location in Google My Business. 

Google My Business locations show first in local search

Google My Business records populate Google Maps, and are prioritised in standard desktop search when people are searching topics with a local element. A complete and well-optimised Google My Business record will position you at the top of local search queries.

  1. Create or claim your location. If you don't already have access to your Google My Business you will need to claim a community-generated record, or add your own new record. The creation process may involve a verification postcard that is mailed to your address to confirm ownership of the business location.
  2. Optimise the content. Complete all fields in Google My Business. Add high quality attractive images, an appealing description and select all relevant categories. When writing your description, consider the search terms people might use when searching for your business.
  3. Ask your customers for reviews. The number of Google reviews and average rating of your business are major factors in where you are positioned in search results. Ask your loyal customers to write Google Reviews, as these reviews will push you up the search results and help you to attract new customers. 

Here's where you can get started with Google My Business:

Google My Business - Drive Customer Engagement on Google

How to completely optimize your Google My Business listing for 2020

10 Ways to Get More Google Reviews | Google Review Generation Guide

Update your Homepage

Another easy thing to do is to review and improve the content on your website homepage, with consideration for the search terms people use to find your business. The homepage is most likely to be the main page on your website that ranks highly in Google, and your rankings can benefit from some improvements to homepage content.

  1. Update title, subheadings and meta descriptions. What would you enter into Google if you were looking for a business in your category? e.g. a person looking for a shoe store might search ‘women's shoes bendigo' or ‘shoe stores bendigo' or ‘best shoe shop bendigo'. Make sure that this term - or a close variation - is used in the page title, subheadings, and in the meta title and meta description. 
  2. Expand the text content. Most homepages are very visual and contain minimal text. For good search rankings you need a decent amount of written content on the page. This should be elegantly integrated into the page, for example it can appear far down the page after your most important features and links.

This is much easier than it sounds. Here's a beginners guide to get you started:

The Beginners Guide to On Page SEO

Google Ads Campaign

If there is a persistent need for your products and services, then it might also be worthwhile to initiate a Google Ads campaign that attracts new customers. This is something that you can do yourself, in a reasonably short space of time.

  1. Create a Google Ads Express campaign. This is a quick and simple way to get started.
  2. Track performance and make changes. Drop in to your Google Ads account regularly and look at which ads and keywords are performing well. Make changes and remove ads that are significantly underperforming. If you have the time, learn how to use the full Google Ads manager for more fine-tuned control.
  3. Setup retargeting. Retargeting will show ads to recent visitors to your website. This is highly effective because someone is more likely to purchase after multiple visits to your site. This can reduce your cost of advertising and increase profitability.

Find out more on how to get started with Google Ads, with the links below:

Get started with Google Ads

The Ultimate Guide to Google Ads for 2020

The Ultimate Google Ads Retargeting Guide

Stay positive and take action - we're all in this together

Don't despair... positive change brings progress

Doing something positive now can help make a difference, even when times are tough. These are the top tips we'd share with any businesses who are looking to meet the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis. They are practical, actionable changes you can make today.

Proactive steps forward - even small ones - help us navigate situations where it feels like a lot of things are out of our control. Your community knows you are hurting, and they want to support you. They will rally around you, and we will get through this together.