There’s no doubt that this is the year of creativity. You’re probably exhausted by the number of times you have had to pivot, adapt, and respond to constantly changing business requirements.
Keeping any business running throughout 2020 has been an incredible feat. If you are running a business, you might have had to change how you serve customers, implement new safety protocols, temporarily close your doors, then open your doors, then close them again.
As we enter the winter season for Canada and the US, COVID cases are rising once again, and businesses are having to find new ways to serve their customers. As challenging as this year has been, we’re continually impressed by the resilience demonstrated by the small business community, and we want to highlight some of the creative ways businesses have adjusted their operations.
You don’t have to get as creative as the individuals who created a full candy shoot at Halloween to deliver candy from six feet apart to continue serving your customers. However, you can make some easy adjustments to your business operations to keep you and your employees safe while continuing to operate. All of the adjustments listed below are easier to make if you have access to online and contactless payment solutions from your payment processor.
Offer Curbside Pickup
Serving customers curbside is becoming about as common as in-person and online service. The great thing about curbside pickup is that it makes it easy for customers to get their products quickly, and there are no shipping costs for your customers or your business. With limits on in-person shopping and general concerns over reducing contact with other people, offering curbside pickup is a great way to continue to serve customers.
Curbside pickup is easy to adapt to meet your business needs. You can let customers order over the phone, online, or even through email, then have them call when they arrive at your location. We have also seen businesses opt not to re-open and pivot purely to curbside pickup to provide a contactless experience. For customers who don’t want to pay for shipping, they can instead opt to stop by during your store’s pickup hours and ask to have the package placed on the designated pickup table outside.
If you decide to offer curbside pickup, be sure to make any instructions for customers very clear. Share the details on their order confirmation emails, on the bottom of your invoices, on your website, through social media posts, and on your Google My Business listing if you have one. The easier it is for customers to understand how they can continue to interact with your business, the more likely they are to continue shopping with you.
Payment Tools Need: The payment tools you need to offer curbside pickup will vary depending on how you want to implement it for your needs. If you have an online store, you can add curbside pickup as a free shipping method to let customers know they can pick up their orders in-person. If you do not have an online store, you can always accept orders over the phone and process the payment using your virtual terminal or by sending an invoice when customers call or email in their order. Finally, if you have a card reader that works with Bluetooth, you can set it up outside your location on your curbside pickup table and have customers pay when they pick up their items. If you are using a card reader for payments, keep in mind the distance limitations of Bluetooth, and make sure you’re protecting your equipment from the elements.
Take Orders Over the Phone
While not a new invention by any means, accepting orders over the phone makes it easy to provide a contactless shopping environment for customers. Choosing to take orders over the phone can also help limit the foot traffic at your retail location and cut down on the time customers need to spend at your store if they only need to pop in to pick up an order.
If you are temporarily unable to serve customers in-person, you can offer delivery, shipping, or curbside pickup to give customers other ways to pick up their orders. If you decide to accept phone orders, be sure to promote the option to your customers so they know it’s available. If you are highlighting new products on your social media, be sure to let interested customers know they can call to complete their purchase.
Payment Tools Needed: Most card readers and terminals will allow you to key in a card-not-present payment, but a better option would be using a virtual terminal to accept payments over the phone. With a virtual terminal, you can process payments in real-time and quickly email a copy of the receipt to your customer.
Host Outdoor Events and Pop-Ups
Depending on the restrictions and guidelines in your area, an alternative to seeing customers in your traditional retail or store setting could be hosting an outdoor event or a pop-up. Throughout the warmer summer months, outdoor events were popular for service-based businesses, including fitness studios that were looking for creative ways to continue interacting with customers without bringing everyone together indoors. While winter weather can make outdoor events more challenging for businesses, there are still opportunities to offer an outdoor experience with a little bit of creativity.
Some winterized versions of outdoor events we have seen include outdoor shopping markets or night markets where retailers set up outdoor displays and encourage shoppers to visit multiple stores in their business districts. We’ve also seen restaurants and breweries add winterized outdoor spaces that include heaters and fire pits to make their outdoor space more comfortable. Finally, pop-up events and temporary booths at winter-friendly locations, such as skating rinks, can be a unique way to bring your brand out into the community and interact with customers outdoors.
Payment Tools Needed: If you’re running an event outside you and you have a card reader that works with Bluetooth, you can pair the reader with your mobile device and bring it with you to the event. Alternate options can include setting up a payment page and displaying a QR code to the page that customers can use to shop and pay without having to use a traditional terminal. The benefit of using QR codes to direct customers to your online store or payment page is that it reduces touchpoints in your checkout process, which some customers might prefer. If you’re running an outdoor event and want to collect payment and registrations before the event, linking to a hosted payment page is an easy way to get the information you need ahead of time.
Book Scheduled Shopping Times
Some jurisdictions have implemented capacity limits on businesses, which could discourage customers from venturing out if they’re not sure they will be able to enter your store once they get there. Since waiting in long lines is no fun for anyone and ends up being counterintuitive to the whole point of adding capacity limits, one solution can be offering scheduled shopping times to customers.
By offering scheduled time slots, customers can book when they want to come into your store and know that they will get a socially distanced shopping experience. Customers will also appreciate knowing they are not going to have to wait in line or get turned away because you’re too busy. Additional benefits of scheduled appointments are that customers know you have their best interests at heart and the personal shopping time adds a VIP type feeling to their visit.
Payment Tools Needed: You don’t need to add any new payment tools if you decide to offer scheduled shopping times. While an appointment booking tool or calendar tool could help reserve the time slots, once customers visit your store, they can checkout as usual with your card reader.
Launch an Online Store
Okay, this might not qualify as a creative way to reach customers, but it might be one of the most important tools you can use this year. Gone are the days where setting up an online store required developers, designers, and specialized skill sets you would need to hire before you could get started. Most online stores now make it incredibly easy for you to launch your store and start accepting online payments quickly. Today’s technology is designed to make it easy to add your products online and to set up a beautiful store that matches your brand as quickly as possible. You can use your online store to accept orders 24/7, making it an extremely valuable sales channel for all businesses.
Payment Tools Needed: Setting up an online store through your payment processor means that payments are already built-in, so you don’t have to worry about adding custom integrations. We’re big fans of omnichannel payment solutions because it means all your payment information is available in one place, and you don’t need to consolidate payment records from multiple accounts.
These are just a few ideas on how you might be able to pivot your operations to continue serving customers. Small business owners continue to impress us with their tenacity and ability to adapt. We know that this year has been a tough one, but your resilience (and the right payment tools) can help you make it through.