The saying hindsight is 20/20 was particularly apt in 2020 for any business owners having a rough start to the year. Knowing what we know now, two years later, nearly everyone undoubtedly wishes they could have continued with whatever challenges they faced pre-March 2020 rather than the one that was thrown our way in the form of a continuing worldwide pandemic along with the associated impact it has delivered to our personal and professional lives.
While the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have been unprecedented in our lifetime, it’s not the first major shakeup retail has faced within the last 30 years. For example, 30 years ago, the public only associated the word Amazon with the rainforest or maybe the fierce female warriors of myth and legend. It wouldn’t be until 1994 that the company by that name was founded and even when it started selling online in 1995, it was only selling books.
Today, it’s impossible to ignore the impact Amazon has had on both brick-and-mortar business and e-commerce. Meanwhile, the world’s most profitable company currently, Apple, was around for 16 years in 1992, but it didn’t go public until the end of 1980, and it didn’t introduce the first iPhone until 2007. But fast-forwarding just a few years and for good or bad, the technology has significantly shaped the evolution of the retail sector. Yet, what some saw as a harbinger of the end of brick-and-mortar stores three decades ago, many now are seeing it as a lifeline during today’s uncertain times. Most businesses staying afloat or even growing in the current COVID-driven environment have adjusted the ways they interact with customers and employees. Many have, if not outright embraced the likes of Apple and Amazon, at least begrudgingly tapped into some of the services offered by those companies and similar ones in order to improve bottom lines.
The E-Commerce Quandary
Businesses already strictly committed to e-commerce pre-COVID likely had the smallest adjustments to their process, but that’s not to say everything was or is easy. For starters, the supply chain over the course of the last two years has in many cases become a pile of broken links.
Once dependable suppliers may be unable to fulfill orders because they’re unable to get their own components to create the products customers are seeking. Or quite possibly, they’re struggling with personal issues — maybe the need to take care of sick family members or having to juggle the kids home from school on quarantine during the times they’d usually be deeply immersed in the work needed to create their in-demand wares.
It’s possible they’re having staffing issues with employees suffering the same challenges or moving on to find other employment in a job market that’s suddenly struggling to court them rather than the other way around.
So what’s an E-Commerce Site to Do?
If you’re fortunate enough to offer a wide range of products from numerous artisans, it’s time to take stock. Check in with your different suppliers and find out how they’re faring. Get an update on what their lead-time is in the current environment and try to plan accordingly. You may find a mixed bag — some may be deciding it’s time to retire, in which case, you may get the last order or two in if you get to them first. Others may be fortunate and running business as usual while still others may be struggling. Being proactive about getting this information won’t leave you guessing when customers come knocking. And if/when you reach out, on a personal level asking how they’re doing probably wouldn’t hurt. Connecting with suppliers in a meaningful way is likely to only help your business — and there’s something to be said about being a good human too.
Having full-fledged shutdowns of a retail establishment for even a few days can be damaging. Although the recent shutdowns stretched to months, the silver lining was that unlike a “normal” shutdown where customers might visit other local shops and through that experience become attached to a competitor, the shutdown — at least in the brick-and-mortar sense — was across the board. If you were shut down not by choice, your area competition was shut down too. Your customers didn’t get wooed by your competitors down the street, but they may have headed online temporarily. Ideally, you were there to meet them.
Physical locations able to pivot to become the online source held onto customers and regardless of whether those customers come back through the door when the all clear is given, if they already loved what you were selling and they have a great experience with the virtual version of you, they’re likely to remain your customers going forward.
The pandemic has been a reset button of sorts for many brick-and-mortar businesses. Maybe yours was a business that wanted to expand your clientele by getting more offerings online, but either couldn’t find the time or didn’t feel the burning drive to do so as sales chugged along. Things have changed. Keep in mind, even if there’s been rough patches, if you’re taking the steps to have some online presence or making the move to strengthen your existing online presence, you’re diversifying and by doing so, you’re making your business stronger by giving you move avenues to reach customers and make sales.
Customers and You
If it wasn’t for the fact that nearly everything is more expensive and more difficult to obtain, retailers, especially those tending to body-mind-spirit, would be experiencing golden days. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released in July of 2021 found that the percentage of people working from home (on days they worked) nearly doubled, increasing to 42% and even more significant, the study detailed that the percentage of people who spent time traveling on a given day dropped by 17% in 2020 to 67%. What that meant for businesses catering to body-mind-spirit, was that more people were home and those people were experiencing significant changes to their daily lives and routines — in other words, they needed ways to find their centers, to experience peace and serenity even as politics became more polarized and new variants emerged. It’s no secret — as the supply chain starts to mend link by link, the polarization of society is unfortunately here to stay for the foreseeable future. Variants are likely to continue to emerge. And people are going to need to find ways to take comfort and recharge. It’s a hefty responsibility, but you’re part of that answer for them.
These are exhausting times and if you feel the exhaustion, take a moment and consider. You’re catering to people who look to you for ways to improve their lives and ways to relax or attune their energies. What works for you? What products do you offer that help you? Is there something that helps you find your center that you don’t carry but could? Maybe it’s time to stock that item — at worst, you’d have one built-in customer for it and after the last two years you’ve gotten through, you deserve to treat yourself.