As COVID-19 continues to spread across Australia, it is imperative for business owners to prepare for the months ahead. ARABELLA RODEN looks to retail experts around the world for strategies on trading in these unexpected conditions and details the educational resources and financial support available to help retail jewellers survive.
Government and Reserve
11 – 18
Months predicted until the
» Hygiene and store maintenance: virus-free environment
» Education and improvemen: panic into productivity
» 7 tips to manage stock: inventory review
» Communicating with customers: marketing strategies
» Survival Checklist: track your productivity
» Read eMag: download guide PDF
In less than two months, the coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread upheaval across every sector of the Australian economy.
At the time of publication, the number of cases stood at more than 4,700, with 20 deaths. According to modelling by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), the virus could reduce Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $34.2 billion over the next 12 months.
The disruption to the retail sector, in particular, cannot be overstated, with PWC estimating household consumption could fall by $37.9 billion.
Take time to gather your thoughts. Turn panic into productivity
Schedule your tasklist, negotiate leases, focus on minimising costs and update your web presence
It’s time for that big store clean! Get your gloves on and get disinfecting
Implement strict new hygiene policies for staff and customers
Keep countertops, benches, mirrors, registers and all surfaces Sterilised
Disinfect floor stock and clean jewellery while completing a full stocktake
Indeed, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) noted that footfall had begun to decrease in February. By mid-March, major shopping precincts including Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall and Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne were all but empty.
According to ShopperTrak, foot traffic in shopping centres fell 46 per cent in the third week of March when compared with the same period in 2019.
Consumers appeared to have heeded the advice of state and federal governments to stay home unless shopping for necessities, such as groceries and medicine.
Meanwhile, store owners struggled with new regulations on social distancing within their premises. The changes lead a number of major retailers to pre-emptively close their store networks indefinitely.
Among them were department store Myer, fashion retailers Country Road and Cotton On, and jewellery retailers Michael Hill Australia and Lovisa.
Notably, Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments – which owns brands Smiggle, Dotti, Just Jeans, and Peter Alexander, among others – closed more than 900 stores for four weeks, refusing to pay rent for the duration of the shutdown. Lew has also closed his family-owned retail chains NineWest, French Connection, and Seed.
Indeed, rising occupancy costs have been a significant challenge for retailers, particularly following the sluggish trading figures of 2019. In order to support retailers, the National Cabinet has declared a six-month moritorium on rental evictions.
The Prime Minister has also advised businesses, lenders and landlords to negotiate in order to reduce mortgage and lease payments until conditions return to normal. “We’re asking businesses to adapt to what is not a usual set of circumstances,” he said.
“They must be sustainable because they will run for, we believe, at least six months and we want to be able to get everybody through.”
Banks are expected to defer mortgage repayments for home-owners, investment property landlords, and businesses, for six months.
In addition, Parliament has passed a raft of measures to assist businesses and individuals who have been impacted by the crisis. At the time of publication, the total spending, combined with Reserve Bank measures, stood at $319 billion.
Crucially, the Morrison Government included increases to Centrelink-based income support payments, as well as a $1,500 fortnightly payment, known as JobKeeper, for employers who retain workers throughout the six month ‘hibernation’ period.
The measures are particularly pertinent to the retail industry, in which thousands of sales and support staff have been ‘stood down’ without pay or made redundant.
In addition, other sectors such as travel have been forced to suspend services due to restrictions and safety concerns. As a result, once-secure companies such as Qantas have put in place large-scale redundancies, leaving thousands of full-time workers suddenly jobless.
Westpac chief economist Bill Evans estimates the number of unemployed people in Australia will rise by 814,000 within months, leading the unemployment rate to more than double, from 5.1 per cent to 11.1 per cent.
Where do we go from here?
According to experts, patience is the most critical factor in developing a survival strategy for the pandemic.
“For all the drama of collapsing output, demand, and jobs in Australia and many economies around the globe, we should expect that output in most countries will begin to recover once new coronavirus infections peak and head down,” writes John Edwards, adjunct professor at the John Curtin Institue of Public Policy, Curtin University in a recent article published by the Lowy Institute. “It will not be soon, but it will happen,” he adds.
$20,000 – $100,000
Under the enhanced Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure, eligible businesses will receive the payment as a credit from the ATO upon lodging upcoming activity statements (monthly or quarterly). A bonus payment equal to the first payment will be made to eligible businesses following the lodgment of June, July, August and September activity statements, provided they continue to operate.
$10,000 – $50,000
Under the enhanced Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure, eligible businesses that withold tax to the ATO on employee salaries and wages will receive a payment equal to 100 per cent of the amount witheld, to a maximum of $50,000. Eligible employers that pay salary and wages will receive a minimum payment of $10,000, even if they are not required to withhold tax.
Businesses that have seen a 30 per cent decline in turnover due to COVID-19 may be eligible for a $1,500 fortnightly subsidy to retain employees (full-time, part-time, or casual). Employers must register for the JobKeeper scheme with the ATO.
For retail business owners, the priorities are health and safety, cashflow, financing and debt management, and communication. There are three key steps business owners should take:
Retail business owners should seek financial assistance, as social distancing and hibernation measures are unlikely to be relaxed for at least six months. The Treasury has set up a dedicated page and support service for businesses, which can be found at treasury.gov.au/coronavirus/businesses.
As part of its stimulus spending package, the federal government announced that owners of small and medium businesses – those with annual turnover under $50 million – with employees may be eligible for the Australian Government’s Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure.
It will provide a payment of $20,000–$100,000. Another payment will be made between July and October. Employers may also be eligible for a payment equal to 100 per cent of their salary and wages withheld, up to $50,000.
Further financial support measures, including an increase to the instant asset write-off and Commonwealth-guaranteed loans, have been introduced.
In addition, small businesses employing fewer than 20 full-time employees can apply for a 50 per cent wage subsidy for current apprentices and trainees. Details are available from the Treasury’s dedicated page.
Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the JobKeeper wage subsidy system for full-time employees, telling Sky News, “[It’s] about what we will do to support employers and employees and this is all about ensuring that people can continue to remain in jobs.”
1. Switch to an appointment-only or e-commerce model. Permitting insurance, staff could be reassigned to a fulfilment role rather than in-person sales.
2. Implement cashless payment and switch to ‘tap-and-go’ cards only.
3. Taking appointments? Confirm that customers are not experiencing flu-like symptoms. During the appointment, maintain proper hygiene and distancing protocols.
4. Communicate your cleaning practices with customers in person and through your enewsletter and catalogues.
5. Limit physical contact from staff and ensure hand sanitiser is available if customers wish to try on products, and immediately disinfect afterwards.
6. Advise staff to maintain at least 1.5m distance between customers.
7. Your existing security practices like buzzing in customers one or two at a time can limit the spread of the illness from one customer to another.
8. Keep your customers notified of delays on their special orders, and changes to store opening hours. Use social media, text messaging, phone calls and email to keep communication channels open, and direct customers to your online store.
He clarified that JobKeeper does not mimic the UK’s ‘80 per cent wage guarantee’.
Instead, a $1,500 fortnightly payment will be made to employers who opt into the scheme through the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
They will then pay the sum to employees, allowing them to retain those staff throughout hibernation.
Earlier this month, Frydenberg said, “The economy is actually in a position of strength to respond [to the coronavirus pandemic]… We will get over this and when we’re over this we want to be stronger and we want to be more productive as a nation.”
State governments have also taken action to support businesses. In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews announced a $1.7 billion assistance package.
It includes payroll tax refunds, waivers and deferments, immediate payment of government invoices, and providing a ‘rent holiday’ for tenants of government-owned buildings.
Russell Zimmerman, executive director Australian Retailers Association (ARA), said, “The ARA welcomes the Victorian initiative, and I’d like to thank the Premier on behalf of retailers.
“The COVID-19 outbreak will impose unprecedented and perhaps existential challenges on small and medium retail businesses; the measures the Premier has announced this morning bring major and welcome relief to our sector.”
In putting together a financial strategy, retailers must also take into account that their business insurance policy is unlikely to assist them. That is because most insurers and re-insurers exclude business disruption arising from diseases notifiable under the Quarantine Act 1908 or the Biosecurity Act 2015 – of which COVID-19 is one – from policies.
Additionally, if a retailer decides to temporarily close their store, they are required by the Duty of Disclosure section of the Insurance Contracts Act (1984) to notify the insurer.
Unoccupied property can be at higher risk of vandalism, break-ins, or water damage, meaning insurance claims could be invalidated if the insurer is not kept informed of an unoccupancy period. Most insurers extend full coverage for several months of unoccupancy.
For jewellery stores, the risk of break-in and theft during periods of closure is more elevated.
If the business is closing for an extended period of time, store owners are also advised to secure product in a safe or vault, rather than a showcase.
John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers Security Alliance in the US, says, “A lot of people don’t put all their things away every night, they feel it’s too much work, or sometimes they will leave low-priced items out. But you can’t leave things out in a showcase for a month. Lock them in a safe or vault. If you don’t put everything away, you become a magnet for crime.”
One advantage of strict social distancing restrictions is that crime tends to be reduced, as police can more easily patrol areas and identify suspicious activity.
Experts caution against bringing jewellery items home for safekeeping, as this can make jewellers a target for residential burglaries.
If operating an e-commerce business from home, retailers are advised to perform an audit of all computers and improve their cybersecurity as necessary. A recent report published by cybersecurity firm Proofpoint also found a significant increase in phishing, malware, and spam email campaigns using coronavirus as a theme, for example emails with the subject line, ‘COVID-19 Infected Our Staff’.
It’s also strongly suggested that jewellers look into installing remote surveillance systems where they can monitor live store security camera footage from home.
“Now is not the time to go deep into heavy discounting, unless it was old inventory that has had a long shelf life. Retailers, just like jewellery designers, have a brand image they should be trying preserve.”
“Rather than stress our teams or push them harder to meet slipping sales targets, we need to prioritise looking after them. They are our number-one priority.”
“A lot of people don’t put all their things away every night, they feel it’s too much work, or sometimes they will leave low-priced items out. But you can’t leave things out in a showcase for a month. Lock them in a safe or vault. If you don’t put everything away, you become a magnet for crime.”
The NSW and Victorian governments directed nonessential businesses, including most retailers, to close from Tuesday 24 March.
However, at the time of publication, retail stores including those within shopping centres were allowed to remain open if they were able to provide space of 4 square-metres per person.
Business owners should communicate clearly and frequently with employees, keeping them up to date with any developments or changes to operating hours and procedures, and supply them with the appropriate protection equipment.
“Rather than stress our teams or push them harder to meet slipping sales targets, we need to prioritise looking after them. They are our number-one priority,” advises retail consultant Nathan Bush.
There is no specific legal guidance on when an employer should direct an employee to stay away from their place of work, and retail sales staff are not able to work from home. However, staggered shifts can be implemented to prevent close contact between staff members.
At the time of publication, the West Australian, South Australian, Northern Territory, Tasmanian and Queensland governments had introduced strict border controls for interstate travellers, including mandatory self-isolation for 14 days. International travel has been banned by the Australian government; anyone arriving in Australia from overseas is required to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days.
For more specific information regarding workplace entitlements and obligations, call Fair Work Australia on 13 13 94 and select the coronavirus hotline prompt, or visit the Fair Work website.
Trading through a pandemic
A pandemic is a crisis for which few businesses are prepared – after all, insurance estimations put the risk of pandemic at less than 1 per cent annually. As a result, many business owners are unequipped for the economic changes that take place during a global outbreak of illness.
However, the challenges retailers will face as the virus continues to spread are not unprecedented; there are strategies that retailers can employ to mitigate damage.
The Australian Retailers Association (ARA), has advised members, “The coronavirus, like any other virus, has a lifecycle. This is not a permanent state of affairs. It’s a serious, but temporary crisis.
“Proactive retailers will need flexible systems that are easy to change and can automate optimal order routing. Success will depend on the agility and scalability of your systems.”
For jewellery retailers, the solution starts with marketing.
“The trouble for jewellery retailers in a time of crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, is that sales of jewellery are motivated by celebration and love; they don’t sell on negative sentiment but positive sentiment,” explains Peter Ryan, director Red Communication.
“To sell anything at all at this time, retailers can’t think functionally. They have to think about emotional motivation and the only emotion I can think of at times like this is to make sure the ones you love know it. Keep them close and never be afraid to show them your love.
“Jewellery is a great way to do that and throughout history, in times of crisis, that has been the case.”
Illustrating this phenomenon is the trend for engagements to increase during recessions and in wartime.
While jewellery retailers may wish to focus their marketing efforts on this theme of love and family, even more important is keeping the channels of communication with customers open in any way possible.
Some may be tempted to cut advertising and communication costs, yet retail experts advise that a more useful strategy is remaining ‘front of mind’.
Ellen Fruchtman, director of Fruchtman Marketing, advises retailers to “think ahead”, telling US jewellery industry publication The Centurion, “I can tell you from experience that the retailers that remained front and centre in [the US recession of] 2008 got stronger.
“Sales volumes increased, without a doubt… I’m not saying that because I’m in advertising, I’m saying it because we’ve seen it.”
While she acknowledged that recent weakness in the stock market – the ASX200 recently fell to its lowest level since 2013, while the Australian Dollar dipped below $US0.60 – has left many consumers “not in the mood to buy jewellery”, the effects are likely to be temporary.
“The bigger picture is that we don’t know when the stock market will rebound,” Fruchtman explains. “It always does, but the question is when, which no-one knows. Will that have an impact on the psyche of the consumer? That’s what all retailers need to be thinking about now.”
In the meantime, others advise retailers to embrace the e-commerce side of their business, both in terms of digital marketing and online shopping.
“You must have a strong online presence during this period,” says Jeff Gordon, director of The Gordon Company, a jewellery sales, strategy and promotion business based in Florida. “Let customers know you have options [beyond] in-store shopping.”
Jewellery retail and training expert Jimmy De Groot advises retailers to “stay in the game”: “Stay in contact, keep the faith, and always be doing something to stay in touch with customers.”
He cites texting, phone calls, social media videos, FaceTime, and video-conferencing with a printed 3D design as some of the ways retail jewellers can interact with customers who aren’t able to visit the store.
Indeed, with many consumers working from home or limiting their outdoor activities, researchers are predicting a boost to the consumption of digital media.
In its recent report The Biggest Business Impacts of the Coronavirus , international digital marketing research firm eMarketer predicted “digital media consumption to increase across social media, over-the-top video and online gaming – similar to what we’ve already seen in China.
“Social networks could be a major beneficiary, as people turn to these platforms to connect with friends and family who may be at a distance or to access news content.”
It also stated that video streaming apps like YouTube would likely see an increase in usage. These trends present an opportunity for retailers to advertise at low cost on these platforms.
The eMarketer report also noted that “changes in online shopping habits may be particularly prevalent among older customers – the group most susceptible to the coronavirus and most likely to avoid stores because of it, but least likely to shop online.”
This shift could not only provide shortterm sales, but permanently shift their purchasing pattern to online shopping.
Meanwhile, the ARA has advised members to invest in delivery services: “The retailers that have an advantage will be those who are set up to dispatch from local stores and are not as reliant on those who operate from a central warehouse.”
Retail consultant Nathan Bush adds, “Physical footfall will drop and visits to public spaces will be more purposeful. With consumers in a task-oriented mindset, think about how you make those tasks easy to achieve.
“Home delivery options are essential. Click and collect, reserve in store and accurate views of store inventory give customers certainty. Subscriptions can guarantee access to product.”
HOW TO RESPOND
If you feel sick, stay at home and seek medical care as soon as you can. Call your GP to organise testing for COVID-19 and ask your doctor further instructions.
Practice self-isolation and keep your distance. If you are tested positive for COVID-19, notify those you’ve recently come into contact with.
When coughing or sneezing, cover your nose and mouth with tissue or elbow.
Wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds. Clean and disinfect contact surfaces.
If you must leave your home for medical assistance, wear a mask so your coughs and sneezes are less likely to contaminate others.
TRACK YOUR PRODUCTIVITY
BUSINESS SURVIVAL CHECKLIST
Organic posts on Facebook and Instagram are ideal for communicating with existing customers
Social media advertising – paid and promoted posts – reaches a wider audience of potential new customers
YouTube advertising can be very costeffective and is both targeted and far-reaching
Email marketing and newsletters keep a brand front of mind for regular customers
SMS and WhatsApp messages have a far higher open rate than emails and feel more personal
While putting resources towards e-commerce and marketing can help retailers survive the temporary financial shock of the virus, Ryan warns that the changes in consumer behaviour may last for many months.
“By all means, move to online – but functional options will not overpower the fear and panic that is enveloping people right now,” he says.
Restrictions on travel, social distancing, school closures, and reduced trading hours, as well as employee absences and shipping delays are just some of the factors that combine to hamper service-based businesses.
However, in addition to federal and state government support, all four major banks have announced relief packages for businesses in financial stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These initiatives range from waiving fees on merchant terminals to deferring repayments on vehicle and equipment finance loans, providing restructuring and extension options, and providing business counselling services.
Guil Lima, chief executive business division, Westpac, said, “This is an extremely difficult period for some Australian businesses. We want our customers in any affected sectors to know there’s a range of ways we are ready to support them.”
From a long-term perspective, Canadian retail futurist Doug Stephens believes there may be a ‘consumption spike’ once the pandemic is brought under control.
He likened this ‘brush with mortality’ effect to the one that occurred after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In an interview with Business of Fashion, he advised businesses to adopt a futurefocused perspective: “Use this time to reinvent how you do what you do, bring consumers new alternatives, new value, and in the process even reinvent your own brand. Don’t let innovation stop, because this could be the window of opportunity.”
Meanwhile, retail and consumer product consultant Robin Lewis and global fashion supply chain expert Margaret Bishop believe the aftermath of the coronavirus could “level the playing field” when it comes to discounting.
Writing on the Robin Report blog, they note, “Supply disruptions that reduce inventory offer the legitimate excuse brands and retailers need to reverse the overproduction and deep discounting they have come to depend on and now regret.”
They advise retailers to “make less, sell at full price, meet profit goals on lower volume and higher margin – and reduce pervasive waste”.
Most importantly experts say businesses and individuals should avoid panic.
Professor Ilan Noy, chair in the Economics of Disasters at Victoria University in New Zealand, told the ABC that the economic impacts are “largely because of the changes in behaviour and not directly because people are sick”.
“There is no necessary panic. There are necessary changes in behaviour, but panic is unadvisable in any case,” he said, adding that governments and media should work to keep people calm.
Ultimately, the full impact of COVID-19 cannot be predicted with total certainty; but the lessons of the past and the experience of the present can help prepare business owners as much as possible for what lies ahead.
JIMMY DE GROOT
The morning of 9/11 [Sep 11, 2001], my team and I were about to step on a plane to go to a Hearts On Fire event in Las Vegas. We were soon told there would be no flights to Vegas – or any flights at all.
In the ensuing weeks we had meetings and discussions about what we should do about our Christmas plans, our promotions, our inventory coming in, our flyers, and our business in general.
We decided to stay all in – in fact, increase our efforts. The result was the best holiday season to date.
We didn’t know what was going to happen in our country or the world, but we chose not to let fear govern our lives and our business.
I completely understand your trepidation and the trepidation in many people’s minds about the future, but I do know one thing for sure.
If we start letting fear rule our lives and our businesses, and if we start pulling back on all of our efforts, from marketing to planning to customer service, and just the day-to-wonderful things that happen in our stores, then our actions will become self-fulfilling prophecies.
When we went through one of the most uncertain periods in our country’s history, we knew we owed it to our customers to continue doing what we do best, and that’s being a crucial part of our customers’ most important moments.
TAKE A LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Examine your brand message and redefine it if necessary
Review your competitors and learn from their successes
Assess and refine your marketing strategy
Audit your website and assess analytics
Undertake online courses in sales and business
CREATING A VIRUS-FREE ENVIRONMENT
HYGIENE & STORE MAINTENANCE
How is coronavirus spread?
• Surfaces – the most frequent means of transmission: The virus is known to primarily spread via droplets from an infected person landing on surrounding surfaces. Other people catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth, allowing the virus to enter their respiratory system.
Viable virus particles – those which are still able to cause disease – were detected for up to 72 hours on stainless steel and plastic surfaces, but no longer than 24 hours on cardboard, and four hours on copper.
How do I stop my store from contamination?
The virus is commonly transferred by hand-to-face touching, after contact with contaminated surfaces. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to minimise the spread is to prevent surface contamination.
The rule is, ‘First clean, then disinfect.’
STEP 1: Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It doesn’t kill germs but can reduce their numbers and prepare surface for disinfection.
STEP 2: Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove the dead germs.
Which cleaning products work best?
Detergents first break down the layers of dirt and dust to allow disinfectants to work. Experts advise that both a detergent, such as soap, and disinfectant, such as bleach, are required. Ensure disinfection products are left on long enough to work.
TURNING PANIC INTO PRODUCTIVITY
SHARPEN YOUR TOOLS: EDUCATION & IMPROVEMENT
The six-month period of ‘hibernation’ presents an opportunity for store owners to reassess their business and improve their skills in a number of areas.
Perhaps the most important skill within the current business climate is e-commerce and digital communication. Retail jewellers can contact their buying group or refer to the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) website.
Improve Business Management Skills
• E-commerce: While e-commerce currently accounts for just 10 per cent of Australian consumer spending, the figure has risen significantly year-on-year and will be the primary channel of purchase for most consumers over the next six months. Buying groups and all-in-one services such as Squarespace and Wix can provide efficient and low-cost education and set up of e-commerce stores, or integration with an existing site.
• Marketing: Marketing is not simply advertising or public relations; instead, it uses analytical methods to determine the best ways to maximise sales and ensure consumers desire, seek, find, and purchase products. Now is an excellent time for businesses to reassess and recalibrate their marketing strategy for the next six months – and beyond.
• Sales: Though businesses are likely to be in hibernation for the next six months, sales techniques can still be learnt and applied. Connecting with customers and closing sales through digital channels such as social media or through web chat requires a different skill-set than in-person sales. Software solutions like Podium can help you to manage communication with your customers, as well as business reviews on Google.
• Management: Managing staff remotely through services such as Zoom or Skype can be difficult. At the same time, a crisis is a critical period for leadership. Managers should use this time to research ways to boost morale and support their team, as well as lead by example in customer service.
Improve Trade Skills
• CAD / CAM: Once touted as disruptive technology, CAD/CAM and 3D-printing have now become mainstream with some customers even bringing their own printed waxes to jewellers. Businesses need to stay ahead of their customers, so now is the time to brush up on those Rhino skills!
• Gemmological Classes: Always been great with jewellery design but wanted to fill your skill gap with gemstone knowledge? Online courses are available with the Gemmological Association of Australia (GAA) and Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
• Trade Media: Brush up on business know-how, industry news and jewellery trends by accessing your trade media website. Jewellermagazine.com has more than 7,350 articles compiled over 12 years, including valuable sales and business management advice.
Read comprehensive business articles on these topics in the Tips On Selling, Logged On, and Management sections of jewellermagazine.com
7 STOCK MANAGEMENT TIPS
When developing a strategy to sustain a retail jewellery business throughout the coronavirus pandemic, stock management is a critical component.
Meanwhile, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) advises that operators of multi-store, omnichannel businesses can “fulfil online orders from stores that are struggling to shift their stock, meeting increased demand online at the same time”.
The ARA also advises stores to accept backorders online for out of stock items, offering customers a date for fulfilment.
While retailers may be tempted to hold a sale, “Now is not the time to go deep into heavy discounting, unless it was old inventory that has had a long shelf life,” cautions Jackie LeBental, founder Barri Luxury Consulting.
Customers may be focused on other priorities, such as stocking up for emergencies, making a sale less effective and eroding brand value in the long-term.
“[Retailers] have a brand image they should be trying to preserve,” LeBental explains.
There are many advantages to carrying stock as an e-commerce retailer. One is customer service – retailers can process orders as soon as they are placed, and give extremely accurate information on shipping times as well as negotiate shipping rates. Additionally, product returns and repairs are more efficient.
Marketing is also simpler, as carrying stock allows retailers to run sales and promotional activity – for example, holding competitions – at any time. However, it is important not to overstock and some retailers may prefer a partial drop-shipping model to keep costs low.
COMMUNICATING WITH CUSTOMERS
Even a hibernating business needs to keep the channels of communication open with customers via text messaging, social media and email.
Shane O’Neill, vice-president Fruchtman Marketing, says the current social distancing policies are an opportunity to build a “personal relationship” with customers. “It’s not about selling, it’s not about showing jewellery, it’s about community and unity,” he explains.
Emili Vesilind, senior editor of JCK Online agrees that the ‘human touch’ is essential. “Your company is made up of people, including you, who are struggling with and acclimating to the current environment in the same ways so many of us are. Make them main characters in your communications,” she advises.
While many people are delaying jewellery purchases until the future is more certain, O’Neill says businesses can continue to build “brand equity” by continuing to invest in marketing.
“A lot of retailers are backing off their marketing and some are stopping their marketing completely, dead in the water, waiting for things to clear up. People who continue marketing and change their message are better positioned when this ends,” he says.
However, Vesilind advises jewellers to think carefully about the tone of their social media posts, cautioning against a ‘business as usual’ approach.
“Eye-candy posts provide a much-needed escape – which we all need right now – and promote your [brands]. But resist pairing those product shots with easy-breezy captions,” she says, adding, “Copy that’s not warm, empathetic, and free of hyperbole and ‘sales speak’ feels painfully tone-deaf now.”
O’Neill agrees that retailers should not focus on sales in their posts, and should invest more money into paid social media advertising to ensure their posts are widely seen.
“How can you engage with the community around you, with paid posts, that aren’t sales-y? That’s not an easy thing to do, but you can be creative,” he says.
Looking further ahead, retailers should consider how consumer behaviour will change over the next six months and when customers will be ready to shop again.
Michael Tutek, CEO of online sales platform Preezie and Inside Retail contributor, advises retailers to think about their customers “on a deeper level than ever before”.
“How do they shop? Why do they buy your product? How does your product integrate with their lives?” he asks. “How can you improve and tailor your user experience to suit the current market?”
Vesilind also sees an opportunity to emphasise charitable partnerships and donations that are relevant to the crisis, which incentivises customers to shop with you.