Had you only looked at the foot traffic data for the first two months of 2020, you might have been tempted to declare—and not without good reason—that it was shaping up to be a banner year for brick-and-mortar establishments.
In the last week of February, national in-store traffic was up 3.5 percent over the previous year’s figures. The country had experienced 23 consecutive quarters of GDP growth, one of the longest such periods in modern history. Earlier in the month, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite index had soared to all-time highs. The economy was booming.
And then, beginning in early March, the bottom fell out. As the novel coronavirus outbreak swept across the country and around the world—and as state and local governments grappled with how to control it—foot traffic dropped precipitously across the board. By the end of the month, nationwide retail walk-ins were at a paltry 27.1 percent of the previous year’s figures. The country hit its foot traffic low point in mid-April, with walk-ins sitting at only 25.2 percent of the 2019 numbers.
While foot traffic numbers have crept upward from their low-water marks this past spring, the country as a whole still has not exceeded 50 percent of what could be considered normal figures. Brick-and-mortar businesses have thus had to adapt their marketing strategies in order to survive in the long run. So what are some of the best things you can do to sustain your business during the pandemic?
Put Safety (and Health) First
The data shows us that consumers are concerned for their safety. As word of the virus spread in early March, the precipitous drops in retail traffic started before any stay-at-home orders were issued. As a result, now more than ever, it is good practice for retailers across the country to focus on prioritizing the health and safety of their employees and customers alike—doing things like installing partitions, reducing store capacity, switching to contactless menus and payments, mandating masks, and disinfecting pens.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Once you have put those safety measures in place, make sure to let your customers know. You should be communicating these safety measures and any updates or changes you’ve made to your services to your customers. It’s not enough to hang a “We’re Open” sign in your window and hope for the best, especially when most of us are spending more time at home and are less likely to encounter physical signage. Take advantage of online channels like email and social media posts to effectively get your message out during this timeframe.
Go Online and Deliver on Delivery
Again, since many people are spending an inordinate amount of time indoors and online, it’s crucial that you have a strong presence on the web. Invest the time to make your website and Facebook profile pages robust and engaging. Furthermore, you should enable online ordering for delivery and pick-up capabilities on your website. Delivery and takeout business has exploded during the pandemic—make sure you are riding the wave.
Know Your Top Customers
From the standpoint of driving business, it’s critically important for brands to know who their best customers and prospects are. The ability to identify and market to those customers who come in frequently or are making bigger purchases is even more important in today’s ultra-competitive environment. If you own a restaurant and have limited table space, you do not want the single patron who orders a sandwich and a glass of water., You want the family of four who is going to buy large meals and a bottle of wine.
Don’t Stop Marketing
Also, as counterintuitive as it may sound, now is the best time to advertise. With many competitors cutting back on ad spending, the cost of online media has become quite inexpensive. Furthermore, with people spending a majority of their time inside, online interactions and engagements are at record levels. This perfect storm of lost costs and high engagement has meant that we have seen unprecedented click-through rates on ads served during this time. If you can maintain (or even increase) your marketing spend, your share of voice increases and your messaging becomes more visible to customers old and new.
Be a Leading Brand Right Now
Finally, consumers are also more likely to perceive brands who advertise during downturns as leaders who are more stable and reliable, which could mean a big boost for your business both now and after the pandemic passes.