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Upskill and Chill Recap: How are retailers surviving and what the ‘new normal’ looks like in shops recap

What’s in store? How are retailers surviving and what the ‘new normal’ looks like in shops.

We held our fourth educational webinar to discuss what it looks like as retailers begin to reopen in this ‘new normal.’ This session, we had an awesome team of retail experts. In this webinar, you’ll get advice from:

Catch the video replay of the entire session at the bottom of this post.

Here are the questions and key takeaways that we learned:

Q1 / Give us a little bit more background on your business and how you’ve been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

  • As a bridal boutique, Ali’s store carries one sample size of the dresses which means that multiple people would be coming in and trying on the same dress. But during a pandemic that’s a no-go and Styled by TC closed their doors back in March and just reopened in the last week of May, with new rules in place.
  • “Some brides are unhappy with it just because it’s not as special right now, but it’s what’s safe.” – Ali
  • “We felt the faucet turn off on March 14.” – Sarah
  • The biggest category for this time of year for Narcissus is prom and wedding guests, so with proms and weddings being canceled, they got hit very hard. They were able to open back up the first week of May.
  • “It was probably one of the hardest days of my life having to inform our employees that we were having to put them on a temporary layoff.” – Jody
  • With 15 stores across the Hawaiian islands, Jody has opened up about half of them. The stores that are in predominantly tourist areas, like Waikiki, have remained closed.

Q2/ What changes did you make/are you making to keep selling while there are mandatory retail business closures in your area? What was the process like moving to strictly online sales? Did you have to build a new website? Offer new services? 

  • “Thankfully I’ve had ‘try-on’ videos implemented for almost two years now, so I had that foundation kind of set of selling to a camera and not in person. We continued that and amped it up a little bit.” – Sarah
  • “We wanted to be respectful and not push products in everyone’s face every single day. We would alternate between posting a try-on video and just posting a happy quote.” – Sarah
  • These social strategies gave Narcissus time to build their website and really execute what they wanted in terms of a shoppable and informative website.
  • “For bridal, no one is really willing to purchase a bridal gown online so we didn’t even try to go that route.” – Ali
  • Styled by TC had a few bridesmaid sales scattered here and there but nothing close to what they had been ramping up for.
  • “I did have one bride call and she was in tears and just ready to purchase a dress that she had seen online and thought that it could be her dress and I just said ‘Don’t do it. Once we’re open, I’ll make it work for you. I’ll rush the order.’” – Ali (the bride ended up coming in and loving that dress and Ali made it work for her)
  • Styled by TC switched their focus to spreading positivity and getting people excited about new products that were coming in.
  • Mahina had been predominantly location-based sales and their website was a bit behind, but had just launched a new website in August.
  • “It wasn’t getting the response that we would have imagined… It took a lot to figure out how much merchandise and how many SKUs to put on the website. The biggest thing for us is that we were too perfectionistic about the brand and the feel and that held us back.” – Jody
  • “Overthinking goes out the window and there’s a lot of value in that.” – Jody
  • Jody has begun modeling some of the clothes on their website and social and showing a more personal side to their customers.

Q3/ How have your social posts and customer communications changed to reflect your current state of ‘normal’? What feedback are you seeing from your customers?

  • Styled by TC tried to post positive messaging just to keep everyone going throughout their day.
  • “I own the store with my sister and we started doing more personal stuff, posting little pictures of us when we were younger and posting that we’re going to have a bake-off…and would have my sister’s toddler try the sweets and pick whoever won.” – Ali
  • “I can’t post a model in a dress everyday. People become uninterested so you just want to post little positive things and people responded really well.” – Ali
  • This was a good time for their followers to get to know Styled by TC and build that relationship.
  • Narcissus is trying a Facebook Live video and selling directly off the rack. They are using a company called CommentSold and they can directly invoice customers from the comment section.
  • “We’re really excited and hoping that’s another great way to sell directly to customers without being in store or even being on our website.” – Sarah
  • Narcissus noticed that their open rates on emails dropped tremendously, so they changed their subject line and messaging to be less directly related to COVID and saw open rates increase to higher than what they had been in the past.
  • Sarah also started texting customers, reminding them that if they needed anything she was there, and continuing to build that brand loyalty.

Q4/Are there any brands in your space right now that are inspiring you with what they’re posting online, or how they’re handling business? 

  • Reformation. There’s a lot going on and they are really mixing it up and the diversity that they are showing and all the different types of content and the Lives… We got really inspired by what they are doing.” – Jody
  • Hello Sunshine (Reese Witherspoon’s brand) was loaded with so many positive images and quotes and those were the posts that I got the most response from when I shared them to our Stories.” – Sarah
  • Love and Lace Bridal Salon. “They posted a really cute video once we were talking about opening up about what the new guidelines would be. They had all of their girls do yes’s and no’s. And I thought it was a cute video instead of us just saying these are the rules.” – Ali

Q5/What does “opening up” look like for you? What restrictions will you have to, or choose to put in place in your stores? And what safety procedures will you be implementing?  

  • Based on guidelines, Jody’s Mahina stores are limited in the amount of people allowed in based on the square footage of the store. Customers are required to wear masks and remain socially distant. They have tried arrows on the ground directing people in certain directions so they don’t have to pass by one another.
  • “The thing that has been really hard is that we are not allowed to have the dressing rooms operate, so people can’t try anything on.” – Jody
  • “The overall response has been cooperation and good vibes and our customers who love us are working it out. They’re buying stuff, coming back and exchanging it and then there are those who just leave and that’s a problem.” – Jody
  • Mahina has also drastically reduced their hours and are feeling out what the consumer behaviors are.
  • Styled by TC used to have 10 guests in bridal parties coming to the store and now brides can only bring a plus one.
  • “We’re trying to make it fun by doing Facetimes or Zooms and giving them our internet access so they can include everyone, but virtually.” – Ali
  • When a bride and her guest enter the store, they are immediately taken to a washroom to thoroughly wash their hands and masks are required.
  • Ali used to go into the dressing room to help the brides get into gowns and now their plus ones have to help them and Ali will put the clips on the dress outside of the dressing room so there’s no skin to skin contact. They also disinfect the dresses after every time someone tries them on.
  • Some brides bring guests that sit on a bench outside and will walk to the window where her party will then give her a thumbs up or down.
  • Narcissus wasn’t given very many specific instructions for safety procedures so they implemented their own. Customers have to sanitize their hands when they walk in, they use an industrial steamer on any items that have been tried on before returning them to the rack and use social distancing practices.

Q6/ What advice do you have for other stores to foster success during this time? Are there software or other tools that have helped you? 

  • “To be exceedingly human. It’s about love and showing that we’re all struggling and we don’t know where this is going. That’s what I love about this time is just the human spirit is so inspiring. This is rough and people continue to smile and be good to each other. Stay creative in these incredibly stressful situations.” – Jody
  • “Realize that everyone is going through a hard time and take it customer-by-customer and case-by-case to help people where and when you can.” – Ali
  • “I believe in honest selling and building those relationships with customers. I never want to try to sell something just to sell it. And that has built genuine relationships with our customers. Through this time I’ve just been adding people on Facebook and Instagram just to stay in touch…When customers see that in times like this they’ll remember you later on. So if you can, get a little more personal with your customers.” – Sarah

Q&A 

Have you thought about flexing on your return policies due to the circumstances with try-ons and dressing rooms? 

  • Mahina hasn’t had to make any changes to their return policy. They offer refunds for items purchased online and exchanges within 14 days for purchases in store.
  • “The customer needs to walk out happy no matter what and everyone on our team knows that. So I think we work and make sure that happens.” – Jody
  • “Usually we don’t even accept swimwear returns because of that intimacy, but I wanted them to be happy and I wanted to show them that we were thinking about them, so I was flexible. It was a situation by situation discussion.” – Sarah
  • Ali hasn’t had any requests to return wedding gowns but they got a large number of dresses into the shop that had been ordered 6 months ago. Where they would usually require the brides to pick them up within a certain amount of time, they had to be flexible for brides who were maybe out of state and couldn’t travel.
  • “Each customer has a different circumstance that we’re willing to work with.” – Ali

Watch the full video here:

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