Helping Brick-and-Mortar Businesses Temporarily Pivot To E-Commerce
These are trying times. They’re disrupting everything, but we don’t want to panic and completely change our business. It’s not a question of “if” business will come back—it’s going to, we know that. But in the time that we have with these stay-at-home orders, there are some businesses that just have to pivot.
I'm Tony Lael of Fannit and what I want to talk to you about is the marketing and sales system for pivoting to e-commerce. I'll go through a real life example that we're working on right now, and discuss some of the alternatives that we're talking through with them and talk to you about what transitions we're making.
- The marketing and sales system
- Local retail shop example
- Focusing on the community
- Transitioning to e-commerce: Use your imagination
The marketing and sales system
When you’re out there selling products brick-and-mortar, you rely on in-store appointments or walk-ins.
You rely on people coming into your store. But it’s still all about how you get people there through the different marketing channels that you have, and what kind of campaigns you’re running. You still need to bring people in the store and you still need to track all of that information, but there’s this big disruption in what’s going on: No people are able to come into the store.
Local retail shop example: Kirkland iRepair
This company has multiple locations, and they rely on people just swinging by and doing screen repairs. How many times have you had a screen that breaks on your iPhone or iPad or other device and you just need a fix?
People can book an appointment online and that’s how they schedule. Of course, people are calling in, and they’re out there doing repairs, but they do the repair in their shops, so they still need people to come in and give them the device.
This is one of those businesses that I could make a case for being essential. If your device is broken, you have to get it fixed. But at least here in the Northwest, it’s not deemed essential.
People aren’t coming into the store, and they’re panicked a little bit. They have three locations in the Northwest, and they’re not getting anybody into the store. They’re not a sales shop necessarily, so they don’t do a lot of retail.
What we had to do is rethink this idea of campaigns to get people in the store. Now we’ve got to think about: Do you completely shut down the business? Do you pivot? What do you do?
Analyze the data
They’re still getting calls—which is great, it means there’s a need there. We started looking online and there’s still search interest. These are just a few of the keywords that they go after:
- iPad repair
- iPhone repair
- Cell phone repair
- Laptop repair
- Tablet repair
There’s still interest out there. The other thing is, there’s still search inventory. When you look at some of the keywords, they’re doing well ranking for those keywords.
There’s still an interest, still customers out there looking for their service, but customers can’t come into the store. They weren’t doing online retail or e-commerce before, so revenue has dried up.
What are the alternatives that you have? How are other people going to get this service? Is there a way for them to get the same service you’re providing somewhere else?
We looked on Amazon and one interesting fact is that there are phone screen shield installations, but it’s at your location. There’s nobody coming to your office to do this anymore. That’s not out there.
There are self-service alternatives, but how many people are really going to buy a home kit to fix their own phones? Not very many people. These kits are probably going to the shops that actually do this.
Are there alternatives to what they do out there that might be sucking up business that we need to compete with? I just did a search on Yahoo and we did a search on Google, for “local delivery from my business.” Looking at other models, what is the internet telling us is available out there?
We had a ton of food delivery. We already know that’s going gangbusters. We found out what our options are in terms of people who do local shipping. Obviously, USPS is out there, and there are other options as well.
Find a different way
Ask yourself: “Could we do this differently?”
What we did was we said, “What if?” We didn’t start off by saying, “Hey, let’s go do this.” We started off by saying, “What if? What if we let our customers know that there’s a different way that we can do business?”
For example, a normal phone call, or jumping on Zoom, to say: “Hey, I’ve got this phone. This is the issue.” Now, you have that in-store experience online, and you’re thinking about it differently.
Retool the website and adapt
So how do you get it fixed?
Their site was on WordPress. We know WooCommerce; we’ve had other clients that use that. Is there a way to do a quick turnaround? We’re talking a few days because people without their devices, they’re pretty much handicapped. Is there a way to do this where we ship them a box, they put it in the box with a return label, they ship it off to us, we repair it, and we ship it back? Can we do that in three to five days? How do you track an order?
We can hook WooCommerce to their website pretty easily to do that. When you fill out an order there’s an e-commerce purchase. We’re actually adding some of their retail items to the same store.
You have to just rethink what’s going on. This could be an option that people might choose even if COVID wasn’t around. When we go back to a little bit more normal where people can go out and into stores, you could still use this model. It’s not an investment that’s lost. We're thinking about this in terms of investment because let’s face it, this isn’t going to be around forever.
Find new partnerships
In rethinking how they were doing business and how to handle the process, we had to find a new partner.
A company like Roadie could absolutely deliver on local, quick turnaround, next day deliveries. We have them ship a box to the customer’s place with a return label, then ship it back to us. They pick up from us and we ship back to the client. It’s still in the early stages, but you have to explore all your options and do the what-if game.
There are other businesses out there that are going to be able to take advantage of this situation, but in a good way to help people out there. You could be asking them:
- Could they offer a temporary discount?
- Is there a way to do a trial because we’re just experimenting with this?
- Can you negotiate a one-time reduced price?
Don’t be afraid to ask for those things, either for you or your clients, if you’re an agency.
Focusing on the community
Entrepreneurs like we are, out there making it happen every day, we rely on each other. We at Fannit have given a COVID discount to new customers—we’ve brought on new customers since this has happened—and existing clients because we want to keep them around.
Now, some of our clients are in the retail space of varying types. We have medical spas and things like that that have totally shut down. We can’t really give them a discount, but there are a couple that were doing work for free because they’ve been clients of ours for over five years.
Think about how you’re serving your clients best. Sometimes it isn’t all about the money. We were fortunate enough to have two or three good years running up to this, so we’re in a good position. Some other companies aren’t in as good a position as we are, so we’re offering a COVID discount. One particular client is 50% off. That’s pretty aggressive and they’re extremely thankful.
We know we’re going to get credit after this is all over and things pick up. This happens to be a manufacturing company and they’re still getting orders. But their problem is they can’t serve. Some of the people are taking unemployment on the shop floor.
Transitioning to e-commerce: Use your imagination
Going back to pivoting to e-commerce, you have to use your imagination. Can it be done differently? What are the alternatives out there for people for this business?
Restaurants are different. Every business is a little bit different, and every owner or every team that makes decisions for that business is a little different, so the solution you come up with may have to be different. This is where, as a marketing agency that is more technical than creative first, we’re able to engineer a process that can work.
You’ve got to use your imagination, you’ve got to think outside the box, and remember that it’s going to come back someday. This could be a short-term investment, but for this client, they may stick with it and have in-store and e-commerce going forward.
1. What strategies and tactics have you put together for clients if they can’t necessarily go e-commerce?
The first thing that we do is look at online search volume and search interests for the products they offer. The services are a little more difficult if you can’t be in person, and it’s not really feasible to do something. Just having a conversation isn’t service.
We look at what kind of search interest is out there and do a pretty detailed analysis of the existing products that they offer, then come to them with: “Here’s a plan. We could totally switch to e-commerce, and depending on the platform you’re on, that could be something that we could do sooner rather than later.”
We’re talking with one client who’s a medical spa that has been with us for three-plus years, and we have a really good track record with. We’re actually offering them this service at no charge to get this going. They’re not going to have to pay us back. They just agreed to come back to us when this is all over, and I think that’s going to happen.
Turning a website into an e-commerce store, there has to be search volume. If there’s not search volume and interest for what they’re selling currently, then the only other option is, “Would you want to sell these other products and could we move to an e-commerce situation?”
It’s actually a fairly easy thing to do, you just have to get it in your mind. The client has to get it in their mind that this is okay, we can do this. Financially, they’re a little scared because there’s no revenue coming in. You have to work with people, and you have to be reasonable.
2. How long has the campaign that you’ve been talking about been running, and what kind of responses have you received so far?
All of the campaigns, what I’ve shown you here, what I’ve talked about with the medical spa, they’re in development right now because everybody paused, stopped, a little bit of a panic button moment. Then we had to have a few conversations, and you get people that are saying, “Hey, we can help you with this. We could do this.”
There’s a trust factor there, so none of those campaigns are running right now. I wish I could tell you that we’re getting a response already, but we’re building them. That’s what we’re doing.
3. Do you have any tips or tricks for how you have gone about getting new business? What kinds of markets or verticals have been successful?
What’s interesting is, we’re getting versions of dentists or denturists, also some e-commerce. We just landed a client that’s a mask manufacturer. That’s a business that we wouldn’t have thought of doing an e-commerce business.
We also have a fire protection company that does the certifications for all the fire extinguishers and the electronics for the alarms and things like that for businesses that are retooling at the moment. Now’s a good time for that type of business to get into a company, their customer, and change things. As long as they’re keeping everything sanitary.
Right now, what we’re offering is a 20% discount to new clients. We’re giving that discount, and we’re doing it 90 days after the stay at home orders are lifted in their home location because we want to give people time to recover. It’s not a static thing.
4. Does WooCommerce offer add-ons to current websites or is it a brand new website build?
You could do add-ons with it, there are certain plugins. What we found is that they want you to do a new website build. They want you to rebuild everything.
I wish I knew the exact answer to that, but I know we’ve added on WooCommerce to past clients’ WordPress sites. The terminology might be different here. A new WooCommerce site could be plugged into an existing WordPress site, if that makes sense. It probably was more like a new site, but just some nuance in terminology.
5. They do payment processing and everything like that?
Yes, it’s pretty much plug-and-play. You just have to have the product, the copy for the product, the imagery, and pricing and things like that.
6. Do you have any advice for some seasonal businesses like state fairs or seasonal entertainment? Do you have any ideas for pivoting within those industries to different marketing campaigns?
We don’t have as much experience with those as I would like, and I wish I had a silver bullet.
My wife works for the University of Washington, and the Dean of the school has online chats on Zoom that have 300 people. I know that’s one way you can connect and see people out there. Now, you would really have to lock it down. You would have to have a waiting room. There are ways around not having it hacked, but I also know that Zoom is a platform that supports a ton of people on there.
If you had a musician or something going, and you had all these people’s faces in the crowd, that would be kind of a strange experience. Maybe you want to say, “Hey, our ticket prices for this event are $25 and $5 go to a COVID relief fund and we’re going to have it at this time.”
There are lots of organizations out there like Eventbrite that would love something like that. If you had a booth at a fair and you had a business that needed to have a booth, you could do that and come meet the people that are at the show, but they’re doing it virtually.
7. When the stay at home orders are lifted, do you think these businesses are going to operate in a similar e-commerce manner? Do you think it’s going to go back to being completely storefront?
Well, my recommendation is if you’re making a pivot and you’re making an investment in that pivot, it doesn’t mean you should totally shut off the in-store visits, whether you’re an iPhone repair shop or whatever. Now you just have an alternative opened up.
As the stay at home orders are lifted, you might find that some people prefer that alternative now for some reason or another. If you find that investment isn’t paying off and you’re just booking people in-store or over the phone like you used to and it doesn’t pay off, you can always shut it off.
I think things are going to change a little bit, and people are going to look at alternatives. “I don’t want to go out in the traffic and do this!” Just like streaming videos has changed a little bit. People stay at home, but people also still go to the movie theater, so it didn’t completely shut it down.
There’s going to be a switch and if you pivot to e-commerce. Think of it as adding to your business, not completely changing your business.
8. Do you have anything that you think another agency or another client is doing that’s been interesting or that you thought was a good idea?
We’ve been so focused on what we’re doing, I haven’t paid attention to what everybody else is doing.
I’ve heard things about the whole Zoom craze, and it’s real, it’s very real. We’re doing it here. More of these conversations with larger groups are important. We have one new client who’s a cosmetic dentist and they’re doing “Meet the Dentist.” They have people going, “Show me your teeth!” It’s the reality of it and I know they’re getting a few takers.
It’s going to change the way we communicate and connect. I actually think being at home, if you’ve got a family too, is different. My son now FaceTimes me from upstairs. Maybe that’s been going on for a while, but just the way this younger generation connects—it’s okay for them. They completely get it.
9. What are your thoughts about a pay-as-you-can model for an agency or even a business selling courses or monthly SaaS platforms?
In terms of contracts, we actually pivoted and we’re saying for new customers, “it’s month-by-month.” We’re giving them a discount until after the stay at home orders are lifted, 90 days. I personally think it’s the relationship you want to have with your clients. Every client is a little bit different and thinks about it differently and can afford a little bit different.
Be more flexible than less, if it lands you the client. You want to leave the door open for when things get back to relatively normal. This is going to change and that’s the expectation. For now, especially if there’s a client out there you really, really want or have been trying to court—we’ve done this—we’re saying, “Hey, we’ll do it for nothing for now, and you don’t have to pay us back. No strings attached. No funny things. Let’s just get to work.” There are some people who might take you up on that.
You have to decide for your agency what you can afford to do and what makes sense for you. Because if your lifeboat sinks, you can’t help anybody. You have to be careful there, but at the same time, do what you think is the right thing to do.
10. How do you feel about the Google Shopping changes to allow free entry into shopping? Will it change the playing field for existing advertisers and SMBs that were traditionally brick-and-mortar?
We’ve been using Google Local Services for a lot of local service moving and storage businesses. We know that when you get that Google guarantee, and it pops up on the little box at the top, you get better conversion.
What I wonder is, if they allow it for everybody, how are they going to present certain business? You’re still going to have to pay to get seen, I would think. I haven’t read the entire update and the nuances of it, but there’s only so much space on the screen for people to display their business in Google Shopping. I’m just wondering what impact that will have just by opening it up.
I do know that local service businesses are killing it. Especially moving and storage, that’s one that sticks out to me right now, but Google Local Services. Once you get that Google guarantee, that conversion on those is just amazing.
Agency Expert Q&A Schedule:
- Session 1: Helping Brick-and-Mortar Businesses Temporarily Pivot To E-Commerce | Tony Lael
- Session 2: Managing Through The Crisis: Facebook Ads Strategies for Turbulent Times | Noah Freeman
- Session 3: Free Money from Google & What To Do With It | Ryan Garrow
- Session 4: How Agencies Can Build Additional Revenue Streams | Alex Glenn