How to Keep Up With Demand as COVID-19 Restrictions Ease

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease and the vaccine begins to roll out across Australia, a renewed confidence in the return of events, dining and shopping will see an increase in demand for many small businesses. So how do we prepare for a ‘new normal’ in business? It’s all about listening to the changing needs of customers and building flexibility into your offerings.

Revise your customer segments

The pandemic has affected people very differently across society. Depending on factors such as location and income level, family situation and health, consumer values and attitudes toward spending has changed, and will continue to change over time.

Track changing spending habits

EY’s Future Consumer Index has mapped how consumers are responding to the COVID-19 crisis. For example:

  • 35% of people are in the “save and stockpile” category, worried about their families and concerned about COVID-19’s long-term effects
  • 27% have “cut deep,” reducing spending across all categories
  • 26% are “stay calm, carry on,” with largely unchanged spending habits
  • 11% are “hibernate and spend,” best positioned to cope, optimistic about the future, and spending more

It’s worth having a think about where your customers may fit in relation to changing spending habits. You can create a bit of a matrix that includes appetite to spend on your service or product versus your other key segmentation data points like age and gender, so you know where to focus your efforts when pivoting your business offering and deciding where to spend your marketing budget.

Get feedback from customers

Not sure which of your customers are feeling the financial pressure from COVID-19 lockdowns, and how? Ask them! Send out a survey to your customer database (using, for instance, Mailchimp and SurveyMonkey) or run a Poll on your Instagram Stories, to ask how COVID-19 has affected your customers, what products they need and what’s nice-to-have, and how they’d like to engage with your business moving forward. You can also use the Customer Feedback function on your Square POS system to receive feedback and have a private conversation with your customers. Chances are they’ll appreciate the check-in and provide valuable insight about customer sentiment that’s relevant to your business.

Expand your operating capacity

Keeping up with demand is tricky when some of us have had to rapidly downsize and others have had to scale quickly (like take-away for restaurants) to meet the needs of customers during COVID-19 restrictions.

Prepare for volume

To welcome customers back to in-person events, dining and shopping, ensure you have the spaces and equipment to accommodate fluctuations in numbers. Is there a way you can collaborate on using preparation or seating space with the business next door? If you need to purchase more tables and chairs, can you halve storage space with other businesses in a similar (or opposite!) position to you? Leveraging outdoor dining and setting up pop-up spaces in your neighborhood could also be a way to host greater numbers of people.

It may be easier to offer a set menu for a while, if you’re a restaurant. Or if you’re in show business, you may offer two shorter seatings of a music event or timed exhibition walk-throughs.

Increase efficiency

Managing staff to support higher numbers of customers is critical. The Square Team Management software solution allows you to set custom permissions for employees so they can efficiently process orders at restaurants, for example. Employees can also view and adjust their schedules and see timecards and hours worked to reduce confusion and unnecessary back-and-forth communication about paychecks and rostering.

Using online appointments and booking software, like Square Appointments, also helps to manage demand so you keep in close touch with customers with confirmations to avoid over- and under-booking.

Build up your digital channels

No matter what happens next, digital is here to stay. People are used to working from home and now expect the flexibility, and companies are saving money by downsizing their commercial office spaces.

Create digital content

Digital avenues allows you to increase your customer base and creates additional revenue streams – pandemic or not. If you’re a gym or yoga studio, that may look like producing work-out and home practice videos. If you run talks or workshops, it may be live-streaming or offering videos post-event. Think about payment structures that account for different modes of access. Maybe you have a discounted rate for a live-streamed event, for instance – or you could offer a free video as a promotional tool.

Offer online shopping

From groceries to tools to clothing, for those that weren’t shopping online, chances are they’re now converted to the ease of home delivery! To power an online store, you can set up an integrated online platform with Square which allows you to create your own website with a payment system. This could be as simple as offering merchandise for your popular restaurant or your full range of garments online as well as in your brick-and-mortar store.

Going digital is about re-imaging customer access to your product or service to expand your business.

Adapting your business to be more agile to changing conditions (from market conditions to global events and local restrictions) is a more constructive way to think about your business’ future. Check in with your business plan and performance over the past year to consider the risks and opportunities available to you as business demand increases and fluctuates with the changing COVID-19 situation in 2021.