Don’t tell your customers you’re closing, tell them you’re moving online
It’s said that every crisis is also an opportunity. That couldn’t be more true than now. Many in our society have been clamoring for change and disruption. And here comes coronavirus.
We’re moving in uncharted waters. The recession of 2008 seems mild by comparison. Most of the country is in a government mandated “Stay at Home” directive, shutting down all but essential businesses and effectively grinding the economy to a halt. Every day brings new “firsts” - greatest daily stock market decline, all-time records in filing for unemployment, the largest Congressional spending bill in history, airlines and other major industries suddenly on the brink of collapse. And many, if not most small businesses, including retail jewelers, abruptly and completely closing their doors with no clear indication of when they will reopen.
And all this economic turmoil is just the by-product of a deeper problem, a world-wide pandemic that has thrust the US into the dubious position of leading the world in the reported number of known coronavirus cases. And the pandemic is world-wide, sweeping through countries from China and South Korea to Italy and Spain, suddenly transforming them, leading to border closures and shut downs as populations self-isolate in an effort to thwart the rapid progression of the virus.
The projection is that the virus will pass through our society, as it appears to have done in China and South Korea. By practicing social distancing to lessen the impact of the sudden exponential growth of COVID-19 on our strained medical resources and so prevent loss of life, we’re effectively shutting down our economy.
How long will this be required? We don’t know. What will be the lasting impact of stopping our economic engine? We don’t know. We’re conducting an experiment in real time, by necessity.
But remember, crisis equals opportunity. Amidst the rapid almost total transformation of our society, new threads of direction are emerging. Although we are physically distancing from one another, we are connecting virtually. Technology has risen to such a level that many, if not most forms of communication and connection can be done virtually. Many of the nightly TV news broadcasts are not from a central news station, but from individual news reporters, each self-isolating in their own homes, reporting, connecting and communicating with each other and to the world audience in real time. The capacity was there, latent.
It’s said necessity is the mother of invention. Because retail stores have largely shut down, buying and selling has switched almost overnight - online. Amazon, now the largest retailer in the world, announced it would hire 100,000 new employees to keep up with the sudden expansion in demand. The capacity to fulfill customers’ needs was there. The virus has been a catalyst, allowing standard physical transactions - buying and selling - to become virtual.
For years many retail jewelers have had the capacity to sell online, but have been coupling this capacity with a standard physical storefront. The coronavirus crisis opens the opportunity to suddenly switch to operating completely virtually, online. In many cases, long-standing connections with customers are already forged. Continuing to connect with customers online is not a radical transformation, but a subtle shift. It’s a continuum. We continue to call our customers, send them emails and pictures, as before. But instead of meeting with them face to face, we Facetime with them, or connect with them on Facebook and Instagram, and send them enewsletters. If done proactively - and intelligently - the shift can be minimal.
At Jewel Couture, we’ve started an Online Partner program for retailers, partnering with them to help in the transition to operating primarily online. For retailers who’ve had just a basic website and maybe a Facebook page, you have to “up your game”. There are many ways of personally connecting with your customers across many platforms - Instagram and Facebook, posts and stories, live events including contests, IGTV (Instagram TV), Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. It’s a personal medium. You’re connecting with your customers personally across many platforms and interacting with them, through comments and responses, Likes, Shares and Follows, sending pictures and forwarding links, using emoticons, etc. It’s a whole virtual world. It’s new, and yet we’re familiar with it.
The coronavirus crisis is an opportunity to explore that virtual world and enter into it. Those that are able to take the plunge will be successful. And their success will help in the collective maintenance and flourishing of the economy, providing a continuity and smooth transition as we weather the passing of this worldwide wave and emerge, with immunity, on the other side.