If you walk the quaint streets of any numbers of coastal villages and towns in Cornwall, you can peer in through the window of a small shop and see a cornucopia of artisan treasures and beautifully curated gifts eagerly waiting to be rehomed.
However, you will also observe the closed sign dangling apologetically from the door. This could have been any February in Cornwall over the years, but 2021 will see hundreds of signs up for a, yet to be determined amount of time, as our independents turn into dependents on Government support.
Yet on the horizon of this gloomy and desperate time, we know that there is a tsunami of people who are furiously tapping away on their keyboards to book up their staycations. Whether they are a family down from Doncaster in a tent in Newquay, or the President of the USA flying into St Ives, every man, woman and his or her dog are promising to bless us with their presence this summer.
Our civic duty for a year has been to buy for needs and not for wants. There have been no changing rooms open to try on our impulse buys or for a leisurely browse, nonchalantly inspecting potential purchases. Business owners and marketers know the magic of touch and feel to convert an interest into a desire and hopefully into a sale. Customer service isn’t quite the same if you have to say, “please don’t touch” or “only pick up if you are going to buy”.
So how as retailers can we exploit this footfall bonanza? Firstly, we must consider that social distancing will still be in place over the summer. If you have a small shop and previously the time it took to dispense four ice-creams, would have given buyers the opportunity to browse your trinkets and souvenirs but now, if you are one-in-one out, there are no people queuing patiently in the shop, which means their eyeballs are mainly outside looking at the pavement and not at your wares.
Certainly, there are dilemmas and restrictions, which will take some creative thought but this is not impossible. Collaboration may be the key. A pop-up presence in a larger venue or even at the hotel or campsite? If Mohammed can’t come to the mountain, the mountain may need to go to Mohammad!
There has been a boom in local virtual markets, where sellers have been able to promote themselves online. Bodmin Virtual Market has over 130+ local sellers and they are keen to hold physical markets in the summer, so check out your local groups.
If you are running a limited number of people in your shop, try and take your visual merchandising up a notch in your window. Give them a reason to want to wait. If they are having to wait outside in the heat, have they appropriate shade for a (hopefully) scorching summer day or conversely shelter for a rainy day? Could there be an opportunity for a staff member to give out refreshments in the queue and adapt your customer service from before they even get in the door?
Could you display a QR code to take them to your website, if you have one, so they can start their browsing outside? If you don’t have a website, could you create a webpage, which would take them to a page, enticing them into your brand, with “thanks for waiting” messages or “here is some of the things we sell” or “why we are passionate about what we sell”.