How small retailers can tackle and prepare for lockdowns

jobkeeper, lockdowns
Business center closed due to COVID-19, sign with sorry in door window. Stores, restaurants, offices, other public places temporarily closed during coronavirus pandemic. Economy hit by corona virus.

Due to the pandemic, almost every small retailer knows the hardships and range of challenges that occur during lockdowns. With the latest Sydney lockdown estimated to cost the retail industry $1 billion per week, the financial impact on traditional retailers is significant.

While the challenges are multi-faceted, the opportunities for retailers are just as significant. Last year, almost 9 million local households shopped online, reflecting a 57 per cent year on year boost in e-commerce. Among the many new merchants that joined the e-commerce sphere, pre-existing online retailers were also among those experiencing a positive bump, with a 10 per cent increase in online traffic seen across Australia’s top 100 eCommerce sites between Q1 2019 and Q1 2020, which skyrocketed to a 42 per cent rise in the first quarter of 2021.

Whether you’re new to the world of online retailing, or have been online and are looking to take advantage of the evolving e-commerce boom, there is no doubt that digital-first retail experiences are what consumers are looking for during lockdowns and there are enormous opportunities for merchants that invest in knowing their customers.

Not all consumers in lockdown are shoppers, and not all online shoppers are in lockdown

The first thing retailers need to recognise is that, while e-commerce and online shopping are increasingly popular and normalised, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to reaching every consumer across the country. Also, the e-commerce boom has been particularly accelerated in the last year but is not a short-term fad, and retailers need to invest in ways that help them understand and meet the needs of their online consumers long term.

When setting up or updating your online store, keep the long-term goal of customer engagement and experience top of mind. There is a broad range of online tools to help new online merchants set up their website with key landing pages and a bold look, and now more than ever it will be critical for these setup processes to include a thorough assessment of shipping costs and operations, curbside pickup and delivery options, and contactless and online payments. Both shoppers in lockdown today, and those out of lockdown with new and entrenched online shopping habits months from now, will appreciate the customer-centric lens applied to ensuring the entire online shopping experience takes into consideration the consumers’ changing needs.

Ensure you are also using a platform that allows for simple changes to the customer experience, without costing more fees for each change. If, for example, a new lockdown was happening in a certain state or city, your retail operating system should allow for simple changes to landing pages and eye-catching banners so you can easily communicate the delivery and product options available.

You might be running solo, but you’re not alone

Shopify’s latest research found more than half of small-business owners and entrepreneurs in Australia were solopreneurs, meaning they were the only person operating in the business. A quarter were also using their business as a side hustle while maintaining another primary income stream. It’s clear that the ecosystem of small retailers is highly innovative, entrepreneurial, and independently minded. Excitingly, this enterprising section of our business landscape is only growing during the pandemic, with 31 per cent planning to start a new business this year.

There is no doubt the pandemic has presented hardship for all Australians, and small businesses have carried a significant portion of the financial burden. However, there has never been a more opportune moment for the sector to work together, learn from each other, and carve out new business opportunities, particularly during testing times like lockdowns when each and every Australian business is being pushed to think outside the box.