Even before you get to the point of reopening your physical dance store, there are productive back-to-market steps dance retailers can take. You may even end up reinventing your retail business model.
Your dance store may still be closed, but it’s not too soon to think about what reopening will look like—and what you can do to prepare. It’s essential, in fact, because one thing is certain: It’s not going to be a simple return to business as usual, with doors flung open to waiting crowds on an announced date. Right now, it’s an open question how comfortable shoppers—and you and your staff—will feel interacting in the usual way, while COVID-19 remains even a diminished presence. In what creative ways can your business model adapt? What go-back-to-market steps can you already be taking? Here are some ideas from retail experts, who emphasize the slow-rollout aspect of any reopening plans and suggest looking to Asia for inspiration on what commerce after COVID might look like.
Keep engaging on social-media platforms.
“Make sure your message is supportive and meaningful,” says retail strategist Carl Boutet. “Not commercial.” As a small local retailer, it’s likely this comes naturally to you. To make messaging more meaningful, be sure to follow up “We’re all in this together” or “We’re here for you” with concrete action, too. It can be as simple as holding a regular dance-themed storytime on Facebook, as Janna Graff of The Dance Wearhouse in West Monroe, LA, has been doing, to support local families as they’re homeschooling their children. Or it might be promoting a mask-making project by a dancewear vendor or local group, or shining the light on a local studio’s efforts to boost enrollment in its online classes.
When there’s so much people can’t control at a time like this, your customers will be happy to band together with you in helpful community-service efforts. And they’ll remember what you did long after this is over. It will be part of your brand.
But simply connecting customers to life at the store they used to enjoy visiting works, too: Graff was surprised at the response to a simple contest on her Facebook page. She posted a photo of herself perched on cardboard boxes that had just arrived from Capezio, with the question “Can you guess the number of shoes in these boxes?” and offered a $10 gift card for the closest guess. The post drew 73 responses.
If you aren’t already doing livestreaming of some kind, now’s the time to begin. Louis Vuitton debuted a new type of shopping experience in late March on the popular Chinese social e-commerce platform Little Red Book. During a one-hour livestream, a fashion blogger host demonstrated LV outfits and then interviewed a guest celebrity, followed by a Q&A to answer audience questions on topics like how to style your bag and what it would hold. The session included reminders about where these new fashions could be purchased, with links directly from the livestream. But this was Louis Vuitton’s first tiptoe into selling as China was beginning to reopen. Previously, after announcing contributions to relief efforts in Wuhan, the company posted a simple message in Chinese on social media, reports The Business of Fashion: “Every paused journey will eventually restart. Louis Vuitton hopes you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.” Later posts gave expression to the travel dreams on hold of its stay-at-home customers and offered updates as its ateliers were repurposed to make masks and protective hospital gowns.
For a local dance retailer, a virtual shopping experience with engaging talk about a leotard’s special features, style and fit can begin low-key, as education and entertainment for stay-at-home customers. But then, when the moment is right, it can also become part of an e-commerce purchasing experience that’s something more akin to personal shopping, with sales assistants acting as hosts. DanceWear Corner, in Orlando, FL, has begun exploring its own livestreamed personal-shopping idea—where staff would take someone through the store virtually and help them pick out items. The store engaged its customers with Instagram Live and Facebook Live sessions, soliciting feedback on the idea including what the new type of shopping could be called.
The time for omnichannel is now.
The hardest hit retailers in China, reports The Business of Fashion, were “companies with broad brick-and-mortar footprints that have yet to transition to an omnichannel model.” Obviously any brick-and-mortar retailer that’s closed has the potential to cushion losses if it has even a small online-selling capability. Some dance retailers are taking this found time to tune up the e-commerce part of their business. Omnichannel doesn’t change your core business: It just gives you and your customers more options as you adapt to a new retail environment.
Think more about contactless delivery.
Curbside pickup or porch delivery are two options some dance retailers are already using—and new contactless “last-mile” delivery services are expanding. For instance, Texas-based PICKUP has added a lower-cost same-day delivery service for smaller items “to support local retailers” in 51 markets. A consumer or retailer can go online and request a pickup from the store and delivery to a customer’s porch, garage or patio. PICKUP “Good Guys” all take necessary COVID-19 precautions, says a company spokesperson.
Even before COVID-19, BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) was gaining steam as a retail trend. Now, it may morph into versions of “buy online, pick up somewhere,” or “be delivered somewhere,” especially since it’s a way, as Retail TouchPoints observes, “to limit the time consumers spend in public areas.”
Get creative about what in-store shopping might look like.
Physical distancing will continue to be a factor, even as nonessential businesses begin to reopen. When malls reopened in Singapore, for instance, tighter crowd control measures were taken, Boutet reports. Think outside the box. Shopping by appointment may be something retailers consider as a bridge back—a way to provide a comfortable and safe shopping experience to a single or a few customers at a time. To prepare, your store would need the right contactless payment methods and appointment app. But potentially, this personalized shopping experience could enrich and strengthen the resiliency of your business model going forward, too.