*Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. Please always consult a knowledgeable professional advisor. *
Many businesses are reopening, after lockdown which means business owners are going down their checklist before they unlock their doors and turn on their lights to meet customer demand.
In August, retail sales volume was up by 0.8 percent when compared to July, according to the Office of National Statistics. But what is more encouraging for small business owners is that this is the fourth consecutive month of growth resulting in a 4 percent increase when compared to February’s pre-pandemic levels. However, clothing shops were still down a bit over 15 per cent compared to these same pre-pandemic levels.
So how do you improve store operations with these changes in mind? In short, you need to take a deep dive into your customer’s journey and determine what is the most efficient way to meet customer demand. Because of that difference in foot traffic and change in customer demand, it’s important to go through your customer demand planning. The last thing you want is to get slammed with a sudden surge of customers while social distancing. These customer demand management tips will help you prevent customers from lingering at your business.
Streamline your store operations
Tightening up your store operations will help you control exactly when and where customers buy from you. This makes it much easier to meet customer demand because you’ll know when to expect an increase in purchases and whether they’re coming from your eCommerce site or your brick-and-mortar shop.
Offer more than one way for customers to buy
Reduce the odds that you get overwhelmed by experimenting with different ways of selling.
|Where you can sell your item or service||How customers can receive their item or service|
|Online store||In-store pickup|
|Social media accounts||Curbside pickup|
|Curbside (or outside)||Delivery|
|Over the phone||Virtual experience|
Make sure you can take payments wherever you sell. If you want customers to order directly on Instagram or over text message, you could set up a quick online checkout link. Or if you want customers to call in orders for in-store and curbside pickup, you’ll need to know how to accept credit card payments over the phone or have the right tools to start accepting invoices remotely. You can take payments any way you want with Square Payments.
Make it easy to buy in advance
Start looking into forecasting customer demand for certain products and how customers plan to pay for those products. Plan ahead by allowing customers to order in advance from your online store or by booking an appointment to redeem a service or visit at a later date. Analysing online shopping behaviours and then setting up an operational plan for your online business can save you a lot of time and headaches.
Let’s say you sell pottery kits three days a week. Tell customers when they can pre-order kits on those days, and be clear when they’ll be able to pick up or have their items delivered. This can help take some of the pressure off of inventory management, as you’ll know exactly what’s needed to fulfil those orders. It can also give you more time to order inventory, which is crucial if your industry is dealing with supply chain issues.
Another benefit of having more lead time to meet customer demand is that it will allow you to set consistent employee schedules because you’ll have a better idea of when you’ll need help. Recently in the UK, there have been discussions about enforcing predictive scheduling laws. Many of these laws are already being enforced in US cities, like New York, and it’s only a matter of time before they are enforced in the UK. Creating a fair system that both ensures your employees’ wellbeing and business flexibility can also help your bottom line. An experiment at Gap retail stores found that stores with more stable schedules also saw a 7 percent rise in sales.
Create separate areas for each way you sell
Your goal? To separate people as much as possible. To do that, you want to group people according to their needs. Setting up a separate operational plan for online business and one for your brick-and-mortar shoppers can help mitigate any bottlenecking in your queue.
For instance, you can move people through a pickup-only line much quicker when you’re focusing on one job instead of jumping between tasks. If you have a boutique, you could set up a quick browsing section where item names and prices are clearly visible. This will let customers safely see what you have in stock and prevent this group from slowing down others.
Marking off a one-way route through each of these areas will also help minimise contact and speed things up while allowing you to meet customer demand.
Take advantage of extra space
If you have access to a car park, pavement, or parklet, you may want to use it. See if you need any special permits or permissions from local businesses before claiming it.
Once you know how you can use the space, define the moments when you could really use more room to meet customer demand.
- Queues: Help customers safely line up in a designated, spaced-out area.
- Curbside pickup: Let customers park and receive pickup orders.
- Browsing: Help customers safely browse, whether through your store window, a special area of your store, or on an outside table.
- Spillover: You may want extra space when things get busy so customers can spread out without getting cramped in one spot.
Next, figure out the setup you need to be able to use that location. You may have to purchase extra tables, signage, traffic cones, or other supplies to let customers know where they should be.
Streamline your team operations
Your customers’ first interaction is likely with your staff, so you want to help your team feel confident about the changes you’re rolling out.
Staff up for critical store moments and purchase points
Where do customers interact with your employees? Think about where you need people stationed, and then staff appropriately.
- Checkout counter or other points of purchase
- Entrance, monitoring capacity
- Curbside pickup, running orders out
- On the floor, helping answer customer questions
- Fulfilling orders in the back
Talk to your team about the trade-offs they’ll have to make to move people through quickly. You may want to prioritise checking out a customer over inviting someone to enter your store, as it means that person can reduce the time spent inside your business.
List out which tasks are a higher priority, so your team knows exactly what to do.
Train your team to operate at full capacity
When things get busy, you don’t want your team scrambling. Define what full capacity means for your business, following all local, county, and Government guidelines.
Then, train your team for what those different jobs entail, so they can move around if schedules change or if things get busy. Discuss the issues they may deal with if things don’t go according to plan. What happens if customers can’t find a parking spot out front? Or if the order is wrong? List out worst-case scenarios, and then create a plan for how you’d want your team to respond.
You might also want to have a dry run before you reopen, or even a soft opening with limited hours. This can help you troubleshoot any issues, and devise plans for things you may not have considered. Be sure to read through our COVID-19 resources for small business so you can effectively meet customer demand.