Small retail businesses have been battling mega online retailers for years. But this pandemic is presenting newer challenges that are reshaping the retail industry as a “zero-sum” game already in play.

Fortunately, by re-engineering operations with a greater customer focus, thriving small business owners are finding innovative ways to make it easier for customers to evaluate and buy products, tell their friends about them and keep target audiences coming back for more.

Adopt a Consumer Mindset

Retailers understand, that in the end, we’re all consumers. Our individual and collective needs and expectations have evolved as we learn more about COVID-19. Today it’s clear that consumers are shifting more toward social distancing and spending more time at home. In fact, according to research organization, Accenture, “Consumers attitudes, behaviors and purchasing habits are changing—and many of these new ways will remain post-pandemic.” So, retailers must engage their existing and potential customers “where they are.”

Savvy retailers have pivoted to meeting customers where they are by bringing services to them. Namely, by offering deals on shipping, flexible delivery options (like curbside pickup) and contactless payments, retailers are helping to keep staff and customers healthy, both physically and financially. Retailers that effectively adopt a consumer mindset will demonstrate that they’re willing to do what it takes to keep customers healthy and happy. Ultimately, small retail business owners are recognizing these accommodations—that benefit us all—are expanding the reach of their businesses, enhancing customer service and ultimately improving the bottom line.

Streamline Operations with Smart Technology

As we learn more about the effects of COVID-19 and its ability to spread, states are responding in a variety of ways. Sometimes, in some states, it’s OK to enter a store with a mask and pay the merchant directly with cash or credit. Other times, access to indoor environments is strictly prohibited and only online ordering is available. Whatever the case may be, COVID-19 has potentially permanently changed the way we buy products and services. To that end, many retailers have turned to cloud-based or online software and apps to manage their employees, inventory, and sales. According to MarketsandMarkets, “The retail segment (will) show the highest growth rate during the forecast period within the global cloud industry.”

Today, businesses can streamline their operations by automating tasks like inventory, pricing, payroll, worker’s compensation and scheduling. These solutions enable a small business to focus on its core mission, freeing up valuable time employees would spend on repeatable tasks…and potentially even saving money as well.

Free payroll software and pay-as-you-go worker’s compensation insurance software are available today to help shave costs from operating budgets. Additionally, chat / video-conferencing software is helping employees and vendors—many of whom are working from home—to “stick together,” while saving significantly with reduced travel budgets.

Build and Engage Your Community

With foot traffic virtually non-existent, small retailers cannot depend on brick-and-mortar storefronts attracting and retaining the interest of their audience. Naturally, many retailers have gone digital, beefing up their online storefronts and social media efforts as a way to stay connected to their customer base.

For example, “How To…” videos that offer training on relatable skills, virtual “clubs” for like-minded enthusiasts and online competitions can all be promoted through various social media and video platforms to keep audiences engaged with the retail brand.

Once engaged in a community atmosphere, audiences are more likely to share ideas that contribute to innovation and efficiency, as well as drive up-selling, cross-selling and new customer adoption. Some entrepreneurs have even benefitted from crowdfunding and subscription services that generate goodwill among regulars and help recover losses in these trying times. Joint-business partnerships also go a long way to building and engaging your community. Think about how a joint-marketing gift card program could help a small business community in your area.

Although nobody knows what retail markets will look like post-pandemic, there is no question that we’re witnessing a seismic disruption to the status quo.

Small retail businesses looking to—not only survive, but—thrive in this “new normal” are adopting a customer-centric focus, employing smart technology and building an engaged community. Initiating or building on these initiatives will help small retail businesses to stay in the game with the massive retail giants, by becoming leaner, more agile and more innovative in the process.

Tracey Berg is the president of Cerity, a workers’ compensation insurance provider founded with a bold vision to reimagine small business insurance. With its digital-first approach, Cerity is transforming the entire process to empower business owners to quickly and easily protect their team, their assets and their livelihood through an online workers’ compensation solution. Follow Tracey on Twitter at Tracey_L_B. For information about Cerity, go to:

Retail stock photo by Iryna Inshyna/Shutterstock