Let’s face it, no retail business could have possibly prepared for the scale of disruption that the current global pandemic of Covid-19 has caused. However, it isn’t only pandemics that can trigger such immense disruption to our usual way of life. Natural disasters, political misadventures, war and economic catastrophes can all have a negative impact on the way in which we make a living, sometimes putting them under immense strain to cope.
Nevertheless, there are lessons that retailers can learn to ensure that they can bounce back following this crisis and are resilient enough to survive should another unprecedented event such as this ever occur again in the future. There is no time like the present to think about future-proofing your retail business for the new world that awaits us. Here are some of the key areas in which you can prepare.
Multiple Sales Channels
If Covid-19 has taught retailers one thing it is that for them to be successful in challenging times, they need to embrace more than a single sales channel. Those businesses that have continued to trade, despite the restrictions on stores opening their doors, have been those who have been able to continue selling online. They may have already had an online presence, quickly adapted their own website or used one of the many selling platforms available online to ensure that they could continue to serve their customers.
Getting your business online is more important than ever. An increasing number of people now shop using the internet, and in 2020, ecommerce sales are expected to account for more than 15% of retail sales worldwide. There are various reasons for this. The most significant is that it gives customers the ability to make purchases at all hours of the day and night. However, as this global pandemic has shown, an ecommerce store has also made it possible for customers to continue to access the products and services of many retail businesses during this unprecedented time. For many, this has been a lifeline in terms of obtaining essential supplies to keep them safe and healthy.
Fortunately, getting started with your own ecommerce store is easier than ever, especially if you have one of the latest Point of Sale (POS) systems. Hike integrates with both Shopify and BigCommerce, two of the best ecommerce platforms available. Using these, it is simple to set up your online store. Both are cloud-based, SaaS shopping cart solutions where paying a monthly fee gives you access to an admin panel where you can enter store data, add products and process orders. Better still, you can customize your design to suit your business identity. Setting up Hike’s integrations with these platforms takes just minutes, meaning you can get cracking with your online store and start selling extremely quickly – something which is important in a rapidly changing retail landscape such as that which we have seen during this pandemic.
Inventory and Stock Control
You can’t sell what you don’t have available and it is this fact that makes managing your inventory so crucial at any time, but particularly when you are limited as to which channels of sale and distribution you can use. If you have products to sell that you know will be in particularly high demand, it is even more important to ensure that you have the necessary stock to fulfil any online orders so that you don’t end up letting your customers down. This could lead to high levels of dissatisfaction and affect your business reputation as well as jeopardizing future orders.
Fortunately, having a great POS can make all of your inventory worries go away. With a full-service POS like Hike, it is easy to keep track of the products that you have. Uploading your products and their variants is easy and can be changed at the touch of a button to reflect any new stock items or eliminated lines. When you then use your POS to sell, whether in store or online, each time a transaction completed your inventory will be automatically updated everywhere, keeping you in total control of your stock levels wherever you are and however purchases are made. You can even set reminders when stock levels are low to remind you to obtain more through the supply chain. All this means is that you can be there to serve your customers day to day and in an unprecedented time, when they need you most.
Real Time Reporting
Real time reporting enables retailers to make smarter, faster business decisions which is particularly important if we enter another time in the future where the retail landscape makes a sudden shift. Therefore, it makes sense to choose a POS system that offers retailers the opportunity to view and analyze their data in a myriad of ways and at the touch of a button from anywhere in the world.
Comprehensive analytics make it possible for retailers to see which of their products are performing well, how their inventory is moving and which platforms customers are using to make their purchases. Is there a particular product that is suddenly selling very quickly? If so, identifying it through reporting could enable you to restock it and fulfil customer demand, whilst also taking advantage of the increased sales to boost your business at an uncertain time. And to make sure that you can react quickly to sudden changes in sales patterns, you can even set monitoring triggers for particular scenarios that will instantly notify you should they occur.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the requirement for social distancing has meant that the way in which many retailers process their transactions has also needed to change. Whilst many businesses already accept other types of payments, the need for contactless transactions has meant that even more consumers have moved away from using cash as their primary way to pay.
Payment preference is important at any time. Some customers like to put all of their monthly purchases onto their credit card and pay it off at a time that suits them, rather than using available funds. Others prefer to pay via Paypal or Apple Pay or use gift cards or store credit that they may have accumulated via loyalty points. You can maximize on potential sales opportunities by giving your customers a range of payment options both online and instore.
Again, this is where choosing the right POS is invaluable. Many, like Hike, integrate with a number of payment providers globally, making it easier than ever to process payments wherever the sale is taking place. Other payment types that can be supported on POS systems include cheque, loyalty points, split payments, store credit, gift cards and even layaway or BNPL (Buy Now Pay Later). Enabling customers to pay using store credit, loyalty points and BNPL can be particularly beneficial in times of economic crisis, helping them to obtain the products that they need without risk to your business.
In addition, most POS systems will allow retailers to send receipts for purchases made in store via email. All the customer needs to do is to give you their email address at the point of purchase (unless you have this as part of your loyalty scheme already). This is another valuable way in which you can minimize contact and ensure that the customer can still receive proof of their purchase with you.
Keeping Customers Informed
There is absolutely no point still trading in a time of crisis if no one knows that you are doing so. Keeping your customers informed with what is happening with your retail business is crucial – both to enable them to still make purchases and to show them that you value their custom. If you are still trading from your bricks and mortar store, you can advise customers of the practices that you are putting in place to ensure that they can shop safely and comfortably. This could include information about different opening times, how you will be taking payments, any rules on things like social distancing or other changes to your usual mode of operation. If you are only operating online, you can still contact your customers to let them know that this is how you are trading at the time and what to expect from your service.
And as we know, there are lots of effective ways at keeping in contact with customers. If you operate a loyalty scheme, you should have customer details logged on your POS which you can then use, alongside integrations such as Mailchimp, to send emails to them to keep them up to date with the latest developments of your business. In addition to contacting your customers directly, you can also use social media and updates to your website to keep them informed. Social media channels, such as Instagram and Facebook, are particularly useful for providing quick updates and announcing any sudden changes to your usual method of practice – for example, suddenly changing your opening hours or moving over to online-only sales. This is crucial for keeping customers happy and aware of how you can continue to support them through changing times.
Putting operational plans in place
In the event that a similar-scale experience to the current pandemic happens in the future, you should use this time to put plans in place for how you are going to stay operational. You should make figuring out some alternative operating procedures a priority so that your business is ready to react quickly if it needs to. This will help to reduce confusion and wasted time deciding what needs to be done and enables you to proactively react to the changing situation. For example:
- Determine how you will continue to operate in different circumstances – opening times, staffing, rotas, chain of supervision, what you can and will sell and what forms of payment you will accept.
- Consider the health and safety of your workforce and customers above all else, and how you will protect this.
- Have a plan in place for how you will communicate changes with your customers.
- If you don’t already, try and obtain customer information so that you can contact them directly if you need to in the future.
- Set up an ecommerce store or have the right POS in place so that you can integrate one quickly if you need to.
- Determine who you will use to fulfil deliveries and have a back-up option in place.
- Get your business on social media.
- Be sure to obtain your information about any legal or health and safety requirements you must meet from reliable sources.
- Ensure your employees are properly trained on what will happen and how they will need to operate and refresh this training annually.
Upgrading your POS to future-proof your store
It’s clear to see that having a great Point of Sale system is integral to the success of a retail business at any time, but particularly during times of uncertainty and crisis when the viability of any store relies on its ability to quickly adapt to change. A great POS provides retail owners with total control over the key elements of their business at the touch of a button and from anywhere in the world. Being unable to be physically present is no longer a barrier to managing your store, continuing to trade or navigating successfully through tough times when you choose a cloud-based system that has everything that you need to run and grow your business.
If you haven’t yet upgraded your POS to one with all of the capabilities needed to keep the finger on the pulse of your retail business, contact Hike today to schedule a free trial of our all-in-one retail platform.
There is no doubt that the shockwaves of the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to reverberate throughout the retail industry long after the virus has been eradicated. Future-proofing your retail business will help to ensure that you remain as resilient as you can in a post-pandemic world.