The beginning of 2020 has undoubtedly become an uber tough time for businesses, as the usual state of things has changed drastically due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Small businesses, especially the brick and mortar, have been facing unprecedented challenges. The social isolation measures taken to protect the public health and slow down the outbreak desolated their premises and put many of them at the brink of closure.
Though states and governments are taking steps to support businesses offering them loans, introducing tax breaks, or postponing the tax filing and payment due dates, it’s obvious that it’s not the time to wait and see for many SMBs. It’s rather the time to take action and transform to be able to answer the crisis.
Let’s take a look at how transformation might help an offline business keep the doors open and lights on during the crisis.
1. Click and mortar: leverage online
Today’s crisis has locked people at their homes, cutting them off from usual things like coffee shops, groceries, pubs, cafes, gyms, pools, etc. In fact, for many, life has moved to the internet. So businesses that haven’t yet had any online presence appeared in trouble, as they lost their customers.
On the other hand, online businesses rocketed. This is especially true for retailers – e-commerce merely rocks today. Just look at those figures: in March, grocery delivery apps Instacart, Walmart Grocery, and Shipt have seen surges of 218%, 160%, and 124% increase in daily downloads respectively, according to Apptopia.
So it’s high time to go online and get your clients back. A business model that implies having a physical store and being able to also serve customers online is called click and mortar. And here are plenty of options that can help you do this in a reasonable time and with a reasonable budget.
- Online payments processors
Selling online is impossible without implementing an online payment system (it’s also called a gateway). In a nutshell, a payment gateway is an application that you implement in your website or an online store to authorize online payments. It works as the middleman between your bank and the customers’ banks (those that issued their credit cards).
Online payment systems usually allow you to keep and manage all your transactions in one place. Moreover geared with the right tools, you can easily bring your online transactions to QuickBooks or Xero, which can drastically improve your accounting.
The most popular options here are Stripe, PayPal, and Square:
Stripe Payments is a comprehensive online payments platform that allows users to accept online payments with various payment methods, providing a great checkout experience that works across browsers and devices of all sizes. It also helps process and manage payments, as well as handle disputes and fight frauds.
PayPal lets you accept payments through a variety of payment types. Moreover, it allows for sending invoices with the option to pay by credit card, debit card, or PayPal.
Square is primarily a provider of card readers that allow accepting payments by Magstripe, chip card, or NFC (phone payments) in an online or offline mode. It also allows for accepting online payments, integrating with various ecommerce platforms.
- Ecommerce platforms
For many businesses, going online means being able to sell online. The good news is, there is a variety of ready-made ecommerce platforms that allow you to quickly set up and run your online shop with little or no additional skills needed. Let’s take a look at some of the popular options.
Shopify is a platform that allows for building an online store from scratch. You can choose your domain name, design your logo, customize the look of your online shop, easily add your products, create collections of products, and more. All this, together with flexible pricing, makes Shopify one of the best options for small businesses.
The outstanding feature
Shopify has its in-built payment processor, Shopify Payments, that allows you to accept and manage payments online with no need to additionally connect a payment system. One more great thing is that the data on your Shopify transactions can be automatically brought to accounting solutions like QuickBooks, for example. Check this comprehensive guide to starting with Shopify for more details.
Pricing starts with $9/mo. A 14-day free trial is available, so you can test the tool with no risk to your budget.
Wix is a free website builder. It’s not specifically about online stores but has solid ecommerce plans. It allows for selling products, taking orders for takeout or delivery, accepting reservations, sending email reminders. End-users can book appointments, sign up for classes. Well, compared to Shopify, it fits a wider variety of businesses.
Wix plans start at $17/mo
This platform is more sophisticated and will require time and additional skills to make the most of it. But for a retailer that aims at growth, it’s the best fit. Being an open-source platform, Magento allows third-party developers to create add-ons to its basic functionality. This means that you’ll be able to cover your particular requirements for your online store’s performance, like SEO, inventory management, marketing, shipping, and many more.
One theme for designing your web store is available for free. Paid themes start at $29.
- Google My Business
Google My Business is, actually, a must for local businesses. It’s an absolutely free and the fastest solution for a small business to get represented and be found online and communicate directly with consumers.
How it works
Businesses that have a GMB account appear in the local search part of a Google search results page when a searcher looks for a certain service. The search engine can detect the searcher’s location and shows businesses and service providers near the searcher.
Once you create your account, you’ll be able to set your GMB page providing your physical address and contact information, upload the photos of your premises, short videos, description of your business, working hours, etc. Plus, GMB allows you to write short posts, announcing your news, perks, discounts, anything that you believe could be interesting to your consumers. Users can ask questions in the Q&A section, as well as leave reviews, so you need to keep an eye on your account regularly.
In fact, GMB is a free alternative to a simple website, so if you don’t need any special functionality, apart from presenting your business to consumers, you definitely need to check it. Bear in mind, however, that it will require your attention, as you’ll need to keep it alive (answering questions, reviews, etc.) to ensure your good position in local search. Should you be interested in more details on ranking in local search, take a glimpse at this local SEO guide for small businesses.
2. Go cashless: ensure faster and more secure service
Today, as more and more consumers prefer paying with cards and using contactless payments such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, there’s no need to explain how important it is for a business to meet the needs of such consumers together with those that prefer the old good cash. Not only big businesses like Amazon Go can benefit from going cashless. Small businesses can also profit from it in many ways. Let’s have a closer look at the pros and cons of going cashless for small businesses.
- The pros
Better user experience – Nobody likes waiting in long lines (especially today, as even the smallest sign of a queue can fear people away from your premises). Cashless checkout can shorten the time your customers spend on paying for your services up to seconds.
Saving time and money – No or less cash operation can save you up to several hours a day on managing them, including counting, going to a bank, etc. It also means you won’t need to pay your employees for the time spent on these tasks.
Safety – Having a lot of cash inevitably poses a business at risk of theft. By removing cash, the likelihood of theft from customers or employees diminishes.
- The cons
Fees – credit card transactions can cost business owners a 3-4% fee each. This means that businesses have to build the credit card fees into their prices, which can result in losing the competition for customers to a certain extent.
Lost customers – Going totally cashless can backlash in a loss of customers. A popular NYC-based burger chain made an attempted to go cashless but rejected the idea in 2018 after a series of angry customer complaints. You need to face it, there is a significant part of customers that use only cash. Some prefer cash for privacy or data security reasons, some can simply have no card with them. Take into account that 27.7% of the US households are unbanked or under-banked, meaning that, for some reason, they don’t have a bank account at all.
System downtimes – Having your credit card processing system down in the middle of the day can turn into a nightmare, as you won’t be able to accept payments at all.
While making your business totally cashless bears certain risks, there can be a compromise of accepting cash but encouraging your customers to pay more with cards. Thus, you’ll be able to serve more customers and won’t lose their loyalty.
3. Stand for each other: engage in reciprocation
Today, solidarity and mutual support are actual as ever. Despite the social isolation, we see a lot of beautiful examples of people helping each other: from donating to hospitals to ordering pizzas for doctors and nurses to doing shopping for their aged neighbors who are at the highest risk.
Businesses can do the same – unite to confront this crisis together. There is a term named principle of reciprocity. Simply put, you can sell your grocery online but can’t deliver. Search for a local delivery service and cooperate. Do you see the point?
What do you think? What can help brick and mortars survive the crisis?