From In-Store to Curbside: How To Quickly Pivot Your Business To The New Normal

COVID-19 has drastically changed the way all businesses in all verticals operate. All over the world, businesses have had to work within the confinements of lockdown and staying in place as per social distancing orders from their respective governments. During the span of a few short weeks, small businesses, SMB’s and even long-standing enterprise businesses across all vertices like food and hospitality, fashion, books, home-improvement, grocery, beauty, and other services have had to pivot their selling methods and strategies at the drop of a hat. All of this in order to get online and implement third-party delivery or curbside pickup.

For a lot of small businesses and mom and pop shops, curbside is currently the only way to keep their formerly in-store focused businesses going. But figuring out how to make this new world work for businesses that previously relied on foot traffic can be confusing, especially if you’re also now exploring ecommerce for the first time. Luckily, there is a vast network of ecommerce platforms and partner networks that specialize in all the needs an ecommerce business needs to be successful from marketing agencies, fulfillment companies, shipping platforms, and integration partners.

During these difficult times, VL OMNI wants to create community and democratize knowledge to the community so Merchants can recover or maintain their new growth trajectory. We know now more than ever that taking a pause as well as looking at how your business operates and your back-end systems is a great way to strategize how to make them work better for you. Integrating systems together and reducing manual data entry is saving Merchants precious time and money while resolving some of the new challenges we all face in the new work-from-home reality.

Keep reading to see how Merchants on every scale are adopting new strategies, being innovative and creative with alternative ship methods during this uncertain time. 


Curbside Pickup – The New Normal

Curbside pickup

It’s incredible to think that just a mere few weeks ago there were pure offline businesses who never imagined they would need a website for anything other than information, let alone online shopping! Those businesses are not just small mom and pop shops, there are many legacy traditional Merchants who still don’t sell online. In the age of COVID-19 that is no longer an option. Those merchants have had an even bigger challenge which is getting themselves online as fast as possible to maintain business continuity and offer the same customer experience they always have had to their customers.

We’re not going to sugar coat it, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from the challenge: setting up an ecommerce store is not like flipping a switch. It is a pivot that takes strategic considerations and a long term plan to get it right. That being said, those businesses that are too scared to make the jump probably won’t survive the year. For traditional brick and mortar businesses like Lindt, they have the capital and resources to pull off an offline to online store in 5 days. For smaller merchants that is not likely going to be the case. Seeing those businesses on the edge of failure, the ecommerce industry stepped up to help.

How To Get Help

Businesses needing help or advice can visit offline2on.com/merchants and complete a short request form. Upon submission, the request will be forwarded to the agency best suited to help. They can also visit offline2on.com/directory to browse a list of agencies to contact directly. The moral of the story right now is that you’re not alone as a Merchant looking to get online and set up curbside pickup. Many organizations and suppliers to the ecommerce industry understand the challenges and constraints Merchants are facing right now. Many are stepping up and are here to help, VL OMNI included.

Once you’ve set up a working ecommerce store, there are two most convenient and accessible strategies to get products into the hands of customers for Merchants with brick-and-mortar stores are delivery and curbside pickup. Curbside Pickup allows your customers to buy a product online, receive an email when it is ready, and allow them to drive to your storefront’s “curb” to pick it up. (Check out Shopify’s detailed guide to implement curbside pickup on your Shopify store). This strategy falls in line with social distancing measures for those who are deemed essential businesses. This option significantly reduces shipping costs and time and maximizes the customer experience with safe personal interactions. It’s also the preferred approach to keeping your physical bricks-and-mortar stores safely active, providing goods to your customers while keeping staff employed and safe.

Another fantastic option for those who, due to governmental restrictions or other barriers cannot open their doors is the availability of gift cards. Allowing customers to purchase gift cards or pre-order popular items to give the business a quick cash flow injection while promising to come to them after COVID-19 is over. (Set up gift cards options for your Shopify store here).

 

Short term strategies to get your business online and doing Curbside-pickup

  • Inject quick cash into your business by offering gift cards, or allowing your customers to pre-order popular products for when your business is up and running again.
  • Discount stock: Take stock of your inventory and discount any items that would allow you to inject more cash.
  • Apply for government aid: It’s not just products that have to be taken care of during COVID. Your employees need help as well and by applying for government grants and support you may be able to keep them employed by subsidizing their labour costs. Check your local government’s website for more information and how to get started with resources available.
  • Offer delivery through third-party applications or offer integrated Curbside pickup
  • Get creative in reaching your community and customers, leverage social media shopping live streams and contest offers to keep your loyal customers returning to support you.
  • Sign up for Offline2On for free expert advice and plans to get a website up quickly, optimize your current operations, fulfillment, and shipping.
  • Leverage offers from those who support the ecommerce industry. VL OMNI has compiled a page directly linking you to many of our partners who are offering discounts, freebies, and advice for free to help Merchants navigate these times.

We know this time can be incredibly stressful for business owners and it’s ok. Don’t know exactly where to start? Don’t worry, we’re all here to help.

 

Two Enterprise Businesses – A Tale of Curbside Pickup at Scale

Though the thought of implementing Curbside Pickup seems relatively easy when you already have a great ecommerce setup. When it comes to proving it at scale, like for some enterprise brands dealing with thousands of customers a day (I’m talking to you Walmart and Home Depot!). The Curbside pickup customer experience can be an absolute nightmare for customers already under stress and anxiety.

Some enterprise businesses like Home Depot are pivoting incredibly quickly when dealing with government closure orders. Home Depot has quickly implemented a Curb-side pickup process. Customers can now order products online that are available in-store and receive an email stating the order will be ready within a two-hour period. Then, customers receive another email stating their order is ready for pickup. At the chosen store location, an associate will direct customers to a designated location in the parking lot for their order to be brought out and loaded into their vehicle without contact. In theory that is a wonderful process. However, with such fast pivots, there are tell-tale signs of a lack of strategy and inconsistency across stores. There was an overwhelming amount of orders that were impossible to be completed within the two-hour promised time frame, given that Home Depot specializes in large, heavy items — it requires more resources and infrastructure that is suited for a major 3PL.

How Integration Can Help

A lack of integration between email automation and inventory systems meant customers were not getting confirmation emails until 24-48hrs after ordering, or never receiving emails at all, but instead personal, harried phone calls from stressed-out employees that their orders were ready for pickup. Walmart, an enterprise brand who prior to COVID-19 was doing Curbside pickup has been completely overwhelmed with orders from anxious customers not wanting to shop in person. Some customers have had to wait over 3 weeks for time slots to be available to pick up vital groceries and depending on which store location they are closest to. Additionally, the actual service and process for drivers to park and pick up their items has been frantic and unorganized. Therefore, creating a confusing and stressful customer experience.

Sympathy must be given to these enterprise brands who are dealing with the unknown and an anxious influx of customers in ways that could have not been predicted. However, hindsight is always 20/20 and we now have the ability to see and understand the significant flaws and holes in alternative deliveries when they are at scale.

 

What Walmart and Home Depot can be doing better for curbside pickup

Data integration is key for businesses like Home Depot who experience an influx of orders, inventory systems must be able to scale during peak times. Imposing an arbitrary pickup time frame of two hours without real insight into the demand of each location can end in disaster. With agile and scalable integrations it is possible for customers to only receive their confirmation orders when the order is actually ready to be picked up, thus saving employees and customers frustration and confusion.

What’s important now more than ever is the customer experience. During a pandemic, the public is willing to give businesses a break and understand the difficulties they are up against. But a great or terrible customer experience will linger with the customer well after COVID-19 is gone. Brands, big and small who are giving customers a well-thought-out personalized and safe customer experience during this time will survive no matter what the future holds.

We Will Survive and Thrive – Together

Maybe your country or state has plans to reopen the economy already. Maybe the pandemic is just hitting your community now. Either way, it’s time to learn the lessons of those who have tried to lead through disruption. None of us know what the new normal will be, but we can strategize and plan to always keep safety and the customer experience of our customers top-of-mind.

At VL OMNI, we’re encouraging Merchants to focus on their ecommerce back-end. This includes your operational strategy, your applications, and how it’s all connected together. (Remember Home Depot?) Every business, big and small needs to dig deep into their back-end and resources they have, the back-end efficiencies must take priority. This is not the time to abandon back-end efficiency projects. But rather double-down and pivot them to fit the new market. This new reality is likely to persist for a while. We’ve already seen that COVID-19 is spurring what was already in experimentation or planning phases into reality, and fast; Merchants know that now’s the time to make or break it. Necessity brings progress and those who adopt new technologies eagerly and with flexibility will survive the new decade.

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