ecommerce and remote shopping for local business

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are a must to prevent the spread of covid-19, but they’re creating huge challenges for small local businesses.

How can you protect your community and your business? Explore your options for doing business without in-person contact with your customers. That may mean local pickup, local delivery or quickly adding eCommerce capabilities.

Let’s walk through your options. 

First, understand what you can do from your brick-and-mortar location 

Social distancing is a smart move everywhere right now, even if there are no official orders to close or stay home. That means moving to curbside pickup and delivery instead of in-store shopping.

In some places, temporary stay-at-home orders may require your brick-and-mortar operations to close if your business isn’t classified as ‘essential.’ Each locale will have its own specific wording, but in general, essential businesses that can stay open may include:

  • retailers that sell medical, veterinary and health care supplies
  • shops that sell food, personal care and cleaning supplies
  • stores that sell supplies for food gardening, fishing and livestock care
  • gas stations and convenience stores
  • hardware and supply shops
  • laundromats 
  • office supply stores
  • moving supplies
  • auto supplies and dealerships

Other types of businesses may be temporarily closed, even to local pickup and delivery. Once you’ve reviewed any stay at home rules that apply to your location, you’ll know whether you can offer local pickup and delivery from your brick-and-mortar store. If you can, here’s how.

Local pickup, local delivery and shipping

If you’re closing to maintain social distancing but can still work in your store, you could offer curbside pickup or delivery (local or shipped). 

This is a good temporary step, especially if you don’t yet have eCommerce set up on your website, to keep going without exposing your employees or customers to close contact. 

For example, in mid-March, By George boutiques in Austin announced that customers could browse the stores’ website and Instagram and then DM or email to make a purchase for pickup, delivery or shipment: 

remote shopping announcement for local business

Home retailer Williams-Sonoma took a similar approach, with in-store pickups where that’s allowed: 

williams sonoma pick up in store announcement during shelter in place

Let your customers know what’s up and how to reach you

As these stores have done, you need to let customers know about the changes you’re making. If you don’t know how long your physical locations will be closed, that’s OK. An end date is a best guess right now, anyway. 

The key here is to let customers know their options for getting their purchases and who to contact to make a purchase and arrange pickup or delivery. You can use our crisis business-update checklist to make sure you get your message out on all your channels.

Get your order process in order

Next, make sure you have a single point of contact for taking orders over the phone and via email. Put one person in charge of all incoming orders so you’re not fulfilling them (or billing customers for them) twice. 

However, it’s wise to designate a backup person or two, with access to all the order information, in case your order taker gets sick or has to stop working to care for loved ones. 

Follow safe practices for curbside pickup 

Make pickup contactless. Arrange for payments online before pickup, so you and your employees don’t need to handle cards or cash.

You can ask your customers to call when they arrive so you can bring their package out and set it down for them to pick it up while you watch from a safe (6 feet or more) distance.

Follow safe practices for local delivery

Again, contactless is the way to go. Prepaid deliveries can include a tip so you or your employees aren’t handling money or getting within arm’s reach of customers at their door. Call or text when you get there so the customer knows their order has arrived. Depending on the value of the order, you may want to wait at a distance to make sure they claim it.

If you don’t have the staff to make deliveries, look at local options like Favor and rideshare drivers, who may be willing to make deliveries from your shop. 

Set up a shipping process

Setting up a full-blown shipping program for your store takes time and planning. If you’re starting from scratch right now, it’s best to start with a single option, like USPS, UPS or FedEx. Buy and print your labels online and arrange for pickup so you don’t have to go into a post office or shipping location. 

Both FedEx and UPS have said that deliveries may be slower than usual in areas that are severely affected by the covid-19 pandemic. Manage your customers’ expectations by letting them know before they order. 

Local pickup and delivery are good stopgap measures if you can offer them. But if your location has to close completely, online sales are your only option. Even if you’re still open now, it’s wise to set up or expand your online store now.

Adding eCommerce for your local business

You can set up a simple eCommerce site for your business in 8 steps with a website builder. This is an ideal option if you aren’t experienced in setting up websites on a platform like WordPress, because you can pick a theme, drag and drop the elements you need to customize it, and use built-in eCommerce tools like inventory management. 

You can also build an eCommerce site in WordPress or add eCommerce to your existing WordPress site. With WordPress, you have more themes to choose from and more freedom to set up the site exactly as you want. This can be a good option if you’re already comfortable with site design and have specific eCommerce needs that require an integrated platform like WooCommerce.

After you have your website up and running, let your customers know via email and social media. With a website, you can also promote your store on eCommerce marketplaces. This can help you reach new customers and drive more traffic to your store’s website. 

Need more information about running your business right now? We’re building a library of covid-19 business tips to help you through.

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