We’re all facing unique challenges right now as the global fight against COVID-19 continues.
For business owners, the stakes are particularly high as we continue to socially distance and consumers shift to conserve spending and safeguard savings for their future.
To be brutally honest, from the outset of 2020 we knew it was going to be a tough year for retail, with a number of long-standing brands forced to close their doors due to changing consumer sentiment.
But, the COVID-19 crisis has blown this out of the water, making traditional retail channels obsolete and changing consumer behaviour overnight.
Sign up for SmartCompany newsletter.
Free to your inbox every weekday
While there is no doubt the Australian business community is battling through some of the toughest economic conditions we’ve ever seen — and we still don’t know how long this will last or what the long-term impact will be — I’ve been impressed by Australian entrepreneurs who have shifted to a new way of working, without pause.
From pivoting the services or products they offer, to adopting new technologies, and finding new channels to serve customers, the ingenuity and creativity we’re seeing from businesses right now is nothing short of extraordinary.
At Skwosh, we’ve also been inspired to shift our business strategy to help sustain cash flow through this crisis, so that we can continue to pay staff, fulfill orders and retain loyal customers.
It’s not easy, especially as a retail brand that very much lends itself to outdoor activities and holiday wear, but some of our tactics are working -— and they might just save us.
Here’s a bit of our story so far, and if our learnings help even one other business owner right now, that’s a bloody good win for us all.
Since we first started operations in 2015, Skwosh has seen strong year-on-year growth, doubling our customer base and revenue with each new annual collection. That’s why I was in a state of complete shock recently when I looked at our 2020 March figures.
I’m not a fool. I was expecting a downturn, but perhaps just one that was not so sharp — sales had not only fallen compared to the same month the year prior, they had tanked more than 60%.
Across the board, consumers were conserving their spending, especially on the non-essentials, and our regular seasonal spikes from school holidays disappeared. The wholesale arm of our business that delivers products to brick-and-mortar retailers nationally had come to a grinding halt, and we even had big international department stores cancelling their purchase orders as well.
We were hurting, and we had to act fast to keep ourselves out of the red. So we did what all good problem-solvers do when they come to a roadblock, we went back to the start and redeployed the basics.
We used the best cost-effective tools at our disposal, our social media channels, to tell our story and re-engage our audience. After all, even if consumers weren’t inclined to buy online, we knew they were spending more time than ever on their phones and computers looking for distractions and entertainment to get through this strange period of isolation.
The team came up with a few different ways to reclaim the attention of our online audience:
● Quarantee Collection: Our designers utilised the opportunity to litmus test a new range of t-shirts with relatable prints and slogans for this challenging time. We put the designs on our social channels for our followers to vote on. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that we decided to make a limited edition Quanantee collection. We’re now taking pre-orders, which is moving cash through the business again, and working with local suppliers to fulfill the orders quickly for our customers.
● Instagram Augmented Reality (AR) Filter: We created an interactive game with an AR filter, enabling our followers to win vouchers by playing, while helping us promote our collection
patterns at the same time. This game resulted in an additional 5,000 new users in the first 24 hours.
● Stylebot: We implemented a customer service chatbot called Stylebot on Facebook Messenger, designed to help customers choose the right item or gift when shopping. It takes into account preferences on pattern, colour, style, size and budget. The bot has been so effective, it has reduced email enquiries by 80% and improved our customer satisfaction rate.
● Happy Hour Giveaway: Every day, we gifted products to a customer who uploaded the most creative work-from-home post wearing their Skwosh gear. This helped to increase our customer interaction rate and resulted in more user-generated content that we could also utilise.
While we still haven’t seen a return to our pre-COVID sales, and we may not for a while, these tactics are working. April has seen web traffic pick up 20% and revenue has lifted 72%, compared to what we saw in March.
It’s a tough time for business right now, maybe the toughest we’ll see. But no matter what your budgetary constraints are, there are plenty of free and low-cost tools at your disposal to help you get through.
‘Do something, do anything’ is the motto of our business community right now. So whether it’s creating new content channels, trying that whacky marketing gimmick, or completely changing your product offering, we’re all in it together and the possibilities are as limitless as your own creativity.