Traditionally, this is the season when brick-and-mortar stores plan the most events. To attract new customers, enable Holiday shopping, and run tantalizing discount events.
How can you get the most out of this period during a pandemic? How can you quickly adapt to varying degrees of lockdown and/or limitations? I have been collecting ideas for a few months and what follows is a practical guide for independent stores.
My advice is to rethink your traditional promotional events, turning them into virtual or semi-virtual events that allow people to participate without compromising their safety.
If you had been planning to run a product launch party, or a promotional sales event in your store, this Fall/Winter, do it virtually.
If the pandemic conditions in your area will allow it, you will still be able to integrate the virtual event with some in-person activities, but it’s important you set yourself in the most appropriate frame of mind.
Face change with a long-term approach
You should not approach rethinking your events as an emergency and short-term solution. On the contrary, you should strategize a long-term plan for events, that is effective and efficient no matter the pandemic situation.
Don’t plan based on a supposed comeback to normalcy (whatever that might mean). By planning this season as the first one where consumers will change their relationship with stores, you will be ready to serve them better even in the future. It’s not just common, it’s also a smart response to recent research that highlighted the impact the pandemic had on consumers’ behavior, and how there’s a trend of this impact stabilizing.
Just read this paper McKinsey published last August: Meet the next-normal consumer. McKinsey and Oxford Economics highlighted consumers are increasingly drawn to:
- choosing e-commerce over in-person shopping;
- sticking with brands they already know;
- shopping less frequently, but buying more;
- picking stores that are local to them;
- prioritizing sustainable options.
The future is now
Let’s be clear, your customers will come back to your physical store. But it’s likely they will do so only if you’ll be able to nurture a satisfying relationship with them even when restrictions prevent them from visiting.
Whatever resistance you have to this vision of the future, there is no denying planning virtual events has many advantages for a physical store:
- it allows you to reach and engage people who are not local but who have been a fan of the store;
- it allows you to accommodate more people than your limited store space would have allowed.
Goals are the same, you just need to adjust how you achieve them
Furthermore, changing the way you plan events doesn’t mean giving up on your goals. You can still plan events that will attract new customers, or engage the ones you have, or launch a new product line.
Your needs and goals do not change, you are simply finding new ways to nurture the relationship with the customers you want to attract and engage. For example, you could run a televised home shopping feature through your Instagram stories from your store. That would allow your customers to virtually visit your store and shop from it with your assistance.
Everything you need to plan a virtual event for your store
If you haven’t set up an ecommerce yet you might be scared of a switch to virtual promotional events. Clearly an ecommerce would provide a seamless virtual shopping experience, but it’s not vital right now.
The basic checklist of things you need to plan effecting virtual events in your store has three items only:
- a steady online presence with a proprietary website (built on the foundations of an SEO strategy) and your Google My Business page. The latter should be frequently updated, especially as far as your contacts, opening times, and reviews are concerned;
- any social media profile with a “live” tool and possibly a linked products catalog. Instagram is the easiest one to use, but consider your client base and whether Facebook might a better option, depending on which generation you are targeting;
- virtual perks. To ensure people will attend your event you will need to provide added value that needs to be virtually deliverable. For example, you could provide a virtual consultation (Trinny London started doing this during the first lockdown in the UK), or a discount code that can be redeemed online as well as in person, or even a gift you can post to your customers.
Once you’ve taken care of the basic check-list of things you need to make your virtual event happen, you need to collect a few tool that will ensure your event is a pleasant experience.
Start with these three:
- a good quality camera and a tripod. You could make do with the latest model of any smartphone, but if the event requires you to move around your store you might want to have somebody else filming you with a stabilizer;
- a lavalier microphone to make sure your voice comes out loud and clear. Sometimes smartphone earphones are enough;
- any data collection system that ensures you adhere to privacy laws (depending on where you are). It should be easy to use and to access online so that people can use it from home or in person. You could create a landing page linked to your website, then have either people fill in their info from a tablet you will provide in-store, or access it from a link sent via Whatsapp or from a QR code. Make sure the wording of your privacy form allows for shooting photos or videos of people coming to your store during the event if you plan to do so.
Integrating virtual and in-person experience
Maybe you’ve noticed all the advice I have provided until now is suitable for both fully virtual events and in-person events that allow for virtual connection.
I encourage you to keep planning hybrid events for a while, to accommodate a range of restrictions. All kind of events can be planned as hybrid, you could:
- launch a new collection (or new products) to 15 of your most loyal customers, then stream it for everyone else to see;
- arrange a limited sale (with special prices reserved to registered customers) online at the same time as you have it in-person at your store;
- strike a partnership with another store in your area, sharing clients’ lists and planning a workshop together. This could be a limited-access in-person event in your store and be streamed on your Instagram account.
And so forth. But let’s dive in one example.
How to launch new products hybridally
The brand of jewellery you sell exclusivally in your town has a new collection out. How can you launch it effectively?
First of all, plan a virtual launch, creating:
- a presentation page for the collection on your website;
- product pages for every element of the collection on your ecommerce;
- alternatively, product pages on your Facebook/Instagram catalogue.
Shoot pictures of every item in a recognizable area of your store, and write product pages making sure you describe every item as completely as possible, thinking of ways to substitute the sensory experience of seeing them in real life. Clearly show sizes, write them down in the description, describe every nuance of color, material, finishing.
Then plan a presentation for a Sunday morning and allow access to registered customers only. Create a limited discount rate for the duration of the event (or the day of), that you will provide to registered customers only.
During and after the event
Make sure you shoot images of the items as they’re tried out, moved around, combined with other accessories. Ensure the in-person experience is safe, and sanitize the space accordingly.
Ask for help from relatives and friends so you can accept orders via phone and/or Whatsapp if you have no e-commerce yet. Start packaging items as soon as the event is over (choosing sustainable solutions) and arrange for delivery as soon as possible.
The week after the event send a thank you note to everyone who attended (virtually or in-person). An email or Whatsapp text is enough, but a postal card will make all the difference. Pick a simple message: “thank you for being a part of <the event>, you’re now officially part of our tribe”. Include a minimal discount code that they will be able to redeem for a long time, or add a pin with the logo of your store.
Even if you should run the event from your own home you will have ensured sales and loyalty from your customers!