How Nonessential Stores Can Stay Afloat During a Crisis

Crises can be weird and stressful times for retailers. Depending on the situation, they may be slammed with demand for their products—or they may go begging for customers whose attention is focused on buying other things. 

What if your business is in that second category? Here are a few strategies that can help your business stay afloat.

Understand what consumers want now

In a crisis, people put immediate needs at the top of their shopping lists. For example, food, personal care and health care verticals are getting the bulk of consumers’ money right now. 

However, the details are always changing, as people stock up on one thing and move on to another. First it was toilet paper. Then, baby chickens (presumably for eggs in six months). Then, yeast for baking bread. As people adapt to the “new normal” and do everything at home, their shopping habits will likely keep changing. 

So how can you know what consumers are looking for right now? One of the best resources I’ve seen is Attentive’s Covid-19 eCommerce trends page, where you can see what products are trending up and which are trending down—in general and within categories like apparel, home, beauty, electronics, auto, pets and more:  

ecommerce industries trending during covid-19

What are *your* customers searching for now? You can check your site analytics to see which search terms are bringing the most visitors to your site. You can also explore Google Trends to see which searches are on the rise. 

For example, this is the trend line for “activities for children” over the last 90 days. You can see the search volume increase as states and cities enact stay-at-home orders. 

google trends shows searches for "activities for kids" have increased since coronavirus outbreak

Use these resources to decide which of your products to promote right now. Keep up with the trends so you can adjust your merchandising and marketing as demand changes.

Offer something entirely new

What if demand for your products has dramatically slowed or completely stopped? Can you use your resources to offer items that are more in-demand? 

For example, fashion designers who’ve had to close their boutiques, like Christian Siriano, and hospitality linen makers who’ve lost orders, like Texas businesses Gourmet Table Skirts and Savilino, have switched to making cloth masks for hospitals and the public. 

Small distilleries around the country, who rely on tours and tastings for part of their revenue stream, are helping to combat the hand sanitizer shortage by brewing their own with the alcohol they have on hand, using a World Health Organization-approved recipe. (The FDA won’t allow them to sell the sanitizer yet, so for now they’re giving it away.)

If your business buys its products wholesale rather than producing them, look at any other lines your wholesalers carry. You may be able to adjust your offerings without having to find new suppliers.

Develop new offers for at-home shoppers

Whatever you sell, it’s time to get creative about how to offer it to your customers. Here are some ideas that are gaining traction now that we’re all shopping from home.

  • Bundles and kits. Some of us have spent so much time glued to screens to search for supplies and read the news that we’re developing eye twitches and headaches. Anything that saves us time and keeps us and our children entertained is welcome. So, if you have products that make sense to sell as a bundle or kit, like cookie decorating tools and supplies, skin care regimens, scented candles and soaps, art supplies or something else, go for it. 
  • Materials for remote events. If you normally offer in-store classes for things like cake decorating, chocolate making or knitting, consider selling class kits online with a link to an instructional video or a live tutoring event. 
  • Subscription boxes. Now that groceries are hard to find and can require a long wait for delivery, specialty retailers may want to consider offering subscriptions. What might have been a gourmet treat pre-pandemic can now be a huge convenience, because customers won’t have to worry about running out of coffee, dog food or whatever your store sells.
  • Gift baskets and gift cards. While visiting family and friends in person is off the table, gift baskets and boxes are a great way for people to stay connected with parents, grandkids and other loved ones, especially if they’re self-isolating at home with the coronavirus. Gift cards are not only convenient for your customers, they give you a bit of a cash float, which many businesses could use right now. 
  • Discounts. If you sell products that are considered a luxury or treat-yourself item, discounts may bring in buyers who are looking to pamper themselves while they’re stuck inside. 

Update your site to reflect new shopping habits

Once you’ve identified which of your products are most sought after, made any changes to your product lines and decided how you’re going to offer your merchandise right now, it’s time to update your website. You may need to:

  • Include new keywords for SEO. For example, if you’ve pivoted from selling custom-made handbags to selling cloth face masks, make sure your website’s copy and metadata includes the keywords mask shoppers use when they search. If you’ve added children’s activity kits, include that key phrase so harried parents can find you faster. 
  • Feature your offers on your homepage and product pages. Make sure visitors can see your most popular and relevant items right away. 
  • Make videos and podcasts. These are a must for online classes, but they can also help customers get the most value from the things you sell. For example, if you sell high-end garden tools and gloves, you might create a podcast on how to care for them, or different garden projects for each season. 

Grow the audience for your products

Now is an especially good time to review and expand your efforts to reach new customers. 

A quick way to do this is by selling through marketplaces in addition to your website. You can also dig into your Google and eCommerce platform analytics to see who buys from you, where they found you and where they’re located. Then you can use that data to find similar consumers via social media and paid search results to drive new traffic to your site. 

Want more ideas on running your business during the pandemic? Check out our web pro’s list of site updates you can do in 30 minutes or less

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention