The global retail industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. In the US, denim brand True Religion filed for bankruptcy on April 15 and luxury department store Neiman Marcus Group is also pursuing a bankruptcy protection, with the pandemic forcing the debt-laden company to close stores and lay off staff.
Last month, sales of clothing and accessories in retail stores fell 51 per cent in comparison to the same period last year, according to data from the US Department of Commerce.
Closer to home, The Modist, a Dubai luxury fashion e-commerce company, said on its Instagram page it was shutting down as a result of the pandemic.
Mall operators in the UAE, however, are adopting a different approach to support retailers.
Dubai-based retailer Majid Al Futtaim, which operates 27 shopping malls across the Mena region, has waived rents for its tenants for the duration of the Covid-19 mandated store closure period. The Dubai Mall has signed an with regional e-commerce platform Noon.com to allow customers to shop online through Noon from the mall’s more than 1,300 stores.
The crisis is also affecting friends of mine that own small businesses in the Emirates, especially those in the food and beverage and fashion sectors. So, how can business owners minimise losses and enhance their customer experience? Here are some suggestions:
Connect with your customers
Now is the time to stay in touch with your customers. Start a conversation on your social media pages to hear what they have to say. Ask them about their concerns, what they expect from you and how you could deliver your products and services in the most efficient and safe way possible.
People are spending more time online at the moment and with 9.06 million active internet users in the UAE, that's a very large audience you can tap into. Tell you customers how your business is operating, and the precautionary measures you are taking. If you operate an F&B business, walk them through your sanitation process, and how you ensure their safety and health.
Move your business into the digital sphere
Dubai Opera is bringing concerts online and Abu Dhabi Culture is also organising online concerts for the public that can be viewed live on YouTube. Meanwhile, life coaches in the UAE are organising virtual workshops and seminars and fitness trainers are offering group classes and one-on-one training sessions.
Just because you cannot meet in the real world does not mean you cannot take a gathering online. With more time on their hands, many people are open to taking part in workshops and acquiring new skills. If you run a restaurant, perhaps you could organise online cooking lessons. If you are make-up artist, you could organise live masterclasses. Online events provide the opportunity to open up to people from across the globe and ensure you do not limit yourself geographically.
Consider long-term offers
Business owners can use the current situation to experiment with long-term offers. Think of offering valuable packages that last for a year or longer. People are enjoying the digital experience so far, and perhaps some aspects could be incorporated into their daily routine, even after the Covid-19 crisis ends. Pay attention to the aspects of the digital experience your customers enjoying the most, and which ones have long-term potential.
Keep up your social media pages
Even if business is slow, don't abandon your social media pages. In fact, now that many of us are spending more time scrolling through social media channels, you should focus on building brand engagement and expanding your follower base.
Post interesting challenges, online contests or fun quizzes that will drive traffic to your page and increase your brand’s awareness. You could even support the community by organising an event with the profits going toward supporting the government’s fight against the pandemic.
Marketers and businesses are facing tough times, but if you take the opportunity to understand your customers more, and work on enhancing their experience, you could come out of the pandemic with more insights and an enhanced business.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi