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What Small Retailers Can Do Right Now to Move Sales Online

To all the small retailers who have yet to move your sales online, this blog post is for you.


Your small business makes our neighborhoods and communities special. Whether you are in the big city, a mid-size suburb or a small town, we need you to survive this pandemic.


Imagine a world without small retailers


In 1979, my parents had the magnificent foresight to build a beach house in Avalon, NJ, a small resort town “down the shore”. Avalon and its island neighbor Stone Harbor are special for many reasons, but one of the biggest is their small business community.


Chains do not exist on the Seven Mile Island, unless you count our two WaWa convenience stores and one Sunoco gas station. Restaurant, bars, boutiques, wine shops, bookstores, surf shops, grocery stores, art galleries, bike shops, hotels and even the department store (Hoy’s 5 & 10) are independently owned.


As a beach resort town in the mid-Atlantic, these businesses earn the bulk of their annual revenue between May and October. It is now May. Memorial Day Weekend is right around the corner, and it’s anyone’s guess if the beaches will be open.


Most of these retailers are not financially prepared to weather a truncated summer season.


There are plenty of towns like Avalon and Stone Harbor that depend on visitors – not just locals – for income. Imagine their shopping districts now. Now imagine those same shopping districts half empty – or worse, peppered with national chains. No thanks.


Here’s how retailers can move sales online


Slowly build an ecommerce site


If you are like a lot of small retailers, you rely on foot traffic, not the internet, for sales. You know what I am about to say, don’t you? You need an ecommerce site.


I know this sounds like a huge undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to get your entire inventory or menu online all at once. Start with your best sellers or new items and add from there.


And guess what? Once your ecommerce site is up, you can sell 24/7, 365 days per year, including during the off-season. Shopify is the heavyweight in this category but SquareSpace, WIX and Pixpa also offer ecommerce capabilities.



Oh, don’t forget gift cards! Don’t offer them yet? You do now.


(If you want to learn more about building a DIY website, check this article out.)


Schedule video appointments


While you are building out your ecommerce site, consider scheduling video appointments for your best customers or for high-value items. This is more time-consuming but if it leads to sales worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, why not?


A wine shop could sell their collection of first-growth Bordeaux or single-vineyard reserve bottlings by video only. A surf shop could sell surfboards, while a sporting goods store could sell kayaks and golf clubs.


Take credit card payments while on the phone, and then figure out delivery. Which takes us to my next point.


Offer curbside pickup and delivery


Forget takeout: a lot of small retailers in our area are offering curbside pickup or delivery for the first time ever. I highly doubt this trend will disappear once we get back to “real life.” Large supermarkets and department stores were already offering curbside pickup pre-pandemic. Now it’s your turn to cash in on the trend.


New pickup and delivery options also make it easy to get three cases of wine, two surfboards, or a delicate sculpture out your door and into the hands of your customers. Who wants to deal with the hassle of shipping those heavy/awkward/delicate items now? Exactly.


Spread the word


First, contact your local chamber of commerce. What kind of marketing programs are they running to help small retailers in your area keep the lights on? Get in on the action and let them do some of the work for you.


Second, start using email and social media for sales. Don’t worry about gaining new subscribers or followers right now. Let your current audience know what you are selling and how they can make a purchase.


If you have never done this kind of sales-driven marketing, it’s really easy. Shopify and other ecommerce site builders are loaded with sales features, making it easy to get emails and social posts out. Trust me on this.


We are pulling for you   


This pandemic is like a punch-gut to small retailers around the country. Please know that a lot of people are pulling for you. You can move your sales online, and you can survive. See you in person on the other side.

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