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If you’re a retail outlet, you’re likely to be very excited about reopening after lockdown and seeing your customers again. Jessie Caldwell, digital marketing and events specialist at EKM, offers helpful tips to communicate with your customers online about your ‘new normal’.

You may have been tempted to open on the first day legally permitted after lockdown, but it is important that you are honest with yourself as a business owner that you are truly ready for all of the new challenges that come with reopening in the coronavirus era.

Are your staff fully briefed on the changes that will be required and are they prepared to handle a variety of possible scenarios (long queues, impatient customers, or even someone coughing at the counter and having to ask them to leave)? The safety of your customers and staff should be paramount in all decisions that you make.

Use your social media channels to let your customers know if you will not be opening right away, and explain to them honestly that you are just as excited as they are to be back again and your reasoning for any delays.

Your customers may be disappointed if you aren’t one of the first businesses to reopen, but they will appreciate that you are prioritising their safety.

Consider a soft opening

Similar to the advice above, this tip is to help you and your employees manage the new guidelines and how to navigate them.

Rather than running a big social media campaign letting your customers know what date you’ll finally re-open, consider opening for a few days without telling anyone. Choose a random date mid-week and do what is called a ‘soft opening’ The idea is to rely only on foot traffic and word of mouth for the first few days, which will usually result in far fewer guests coming through your door.

With this strategy you can ease yourself and your employees into the new ‘normal’. Once you’ve had a few days to try out your new procedures and make adjustments where necessary, you can then make a big announcement on social media letting your eager customers know that you’re back in business.

Clearly communicate your safety procedures to customers

Most people will know that they need to maintain 1-2m social distancing, but remember that they will not know your guidelines for queueing, ordering, wearing a mask, sanitising, paying or where to sit or stand unless you tell them (and then tell them again).

It may be a good idea to publish these guidelines on your website and on your social media platforms so that potential visitors can prepare themselves before arriving.

Prioritise your online presence

During lockdown, 25% of UK businesses temporarily closed or paused trading. There was a strange dichotomy during this time where some businesses suffered greatly, while others thrived more than their wildest dreams. In most cases, the businesses that were able to continue to operate and ultimately thrive were those that had a strong online presence.

This is due to the fact that consumers were unable to visit most retail stores, and those they could visit (like the supermarket) were under such strict restrictions that it was a more pleasant experience to use online ordering and home delivery services.

The habit of looking for everyday purchases online, rather than visiting a local shop, is likely to become a permanent part of everyday life. When the outbreak is over, 28% of UK shoppers expect to continue shopping online more frequently than they did prior to the lockdown. When it comes to food delivery and takeaway services, 10% of UK consumers say they expect to order more takeaway when the outbreak is over than they did prior.

When reopening your business, encourage customers to shop online for in-store pickup to reduce the amount of time consumers are spending in your business. You can also use your website to communicate your lockdown measures and opening hours.

The importance of ecommerce has long been something that is becoming increasingly important for businesses of all kinds. If anything, COVID-19 has thrust this fact into the forefront of retail. If your business is not currently online, you should be making every effort to migrate in that direction. Consider checking out one of the UK’s top 5 ecommerce platforms.

If you are new to the realm of ecommerce, we offer a helpful resource at EKM Academy, which offers free online courses on the basics of starting and running an online business.

Continue to learn and grow

Once your business is back up and running, sit down with your team and identify what helped and/or hurt your business over the last few months. If you discover vulnerabilities within your business plan, have an honest conversation with your staff and management on how these issues can be avoided in the future.

For some businesses this may be creating a more efficient system for communicating with staff in case of an emergency, for other businesses this may mean creating contingency plans and emergency funds.

Above all, use the previous few months to learn and grow yourself and your business as we move forward, together.

Based in Preston, EKM is one of UK’s largest online shop providers. It recently launched a new platform Obodo, a free ecommerce solution designed to provide a quick and simple way for high street businesses to get online and serve customers in their local area.

EKM is a member of Boost & Co – a group of public and private sector organisations that can help Lancashire businesses grow.

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