The initial lockdown was a challenge for retailers – closed stores, deserted pedestrian streets, balance sheets in deep red. But the crisis also brought an opportunity – because many used the time to try out new strategies in order to generate part of their lost sales.
Including Marcus Diekmann, part-time CEO of the German bicycle manufacturer and mail order company Rose Bikes. As part of the [email protected] his dealers drove the small truck to customers and presented them the bicycles in front of their own front door. In addition, the sellers advised their customers via WhatsApp video call and organized their own sales show via an Instagram live stream.
All ideas that Diekmann wanted to share in a network. “Pure subsidies for the retail sector do not help if the retailers do not know how to shift their business to digital,” Diekmann said in an interview with NewsABC.net. The smaller retailers in particular learned more by sharing their knowledge and tips for e-commerce. That is why Diekmann founded the “Dealers Help Dealers” initiative, a network of dealers for dealers with over 3000 members and its own LinkedIn group – in which, however, there is a rather passive exchange.
NewsABC.net spoke to traders in the initiative and beyond and let them show them their creative lockdown strategies for the difficult time.
1. Advice via WhatsApp
Customers often want more detailed advice, especially when it comes to toys or games that the Gernemann paper, writing and toy store in Coesfeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, offers. Marek Walde, 20 years old, therefore supports his grandmother in the family-run shop using WhatsApp. The student from Berlin advises all customers and processes orders. “I send the customers photos of the products and they can give me direct feedback as to whether they like it,” he says. That is practical because he can calmly consider which product would be a good fit. The customers could then pick up the order or have it delivered.
At the same time, Walde is also using other channels: since the first lockdown, the Gernemann toy shop has been represented on Instagram and Facebook. In a Facebook livestream, Walde explains, for example, which games he recommends after Christmas. “It was a lot of effort, but the live stream binds more people than a simple video,” explains Walde.
The Gernemann toy store also came up with something special for Christmas itself: Customers could send their wish lists via WhatsApp and Walde and his grandmother took care of the rest, wrapping the gifts and delivering them straight to their homes. In some cases, customers sent us product links from large online retailers such as Amazon or large toy chains and asked whether the toy store could also get them, says Walde. “The customers preferred to buy locally and luckily they didn’t increasingly migrate to the Internet,” he says. Often they could have found the same product or found an alternative product.
The Frankfurt Laufshop in downtown Frankfurt am Main developed an online business model that also works without an online shop. For this, owner Jost Wiebelhaus relocated his running analysis completely to the Internet. Since then he has had his customers send photos of their feet and videos of their running style from the living room. Using the shape of the foot, the shoes already worn and the movement profiles, Wiebelhaus and his employees put together running shoe models, discuss them with customers on the phone and send them the shoes.
“We have up to ten consultations a day,” says Wiebelhaus on the phone. The returns would be less than 10 percent. “The high hit rate in our shoe selection is also due to the fact that we keep a shoe file for our regular customers,” he says. In this way they would know exactly which models and sizes the customers have already bought. “The advice is time-consuming, but it also makes us unique,” says Wiebelhaus. That is why the Frankfurt running shop would be able to survive without an online shop.
For the renewed lockdown, Wiebelhaus also had a “Packstation” set up for the Frankfurt running shop. Here, customers can pick up their ordered and paid goods contactlessly with a numeric code that is sent to them in advance by email or WhatsApp.
Even large fashion retailers have already switched to personal shopping via video chat, including the Gerry Weber fashion chain. In Berlin, Brandenburg, Oldenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, customers can book a personal appointment with sales advisors and are connected directly to the store via a tablet. The shop assistants guide customers through the store and use the video chat to advise them on the styling of individual collections. The order could then be picked up in the store on the same day.
“We are trying to cushion part of the missing stationary business”, explains a press spokeswoman Kristina Schütze on the phone. Exact numbers of the appointments are not available, but the reactions of customers encourage Gerry Weber to completely roll out personal shopping in Germany, even in the outlets.
Online events can also be a strategy to expand the business model in lockdown: Stephanie Döring runs a wine shop in Hamburg’s trendy St. Pauli district. During the initial lockdown, she began doing digital wine tastings, although she was allowed to stay open. The trained sommelier found a new way of extending the wine experience digitally – for risk target groups, for example, because the customers were then sent the wine tastings home.
The two Berlin kitchen studio dealers Mario Ruder and Claudia Theißen from the specialist store electroplus küchenplus had a different idea. You have been organizing cooking events for customers for years and decided last year to broadcast cooking events via live stream on Facebook and Instagram. In August, they celebrated their premiere there in one of the show kitchens with a cocktail workshop, which they implemented with SMEG, a manufacturer of household appliances and a product trainer.
4. Instagram as a distribution and sales channel
Some Berlin vintage shops switched their sales to Instagram and online shops, such as the Neukölln vintage and second-hand shop Neuzwei. Owner Barbara Molnar specializes primarily in classic design brands and advertises the garments with aesthetic photos on her Instagram channel and in Instagram stories. To this end, Molnar organizes its own photo shoots in and outside of her shop in order to present the clothes with clothes on. Customers can then buy their favorite item of clothing via private messages and the online shop.
Other vintage shops like the Neukölln shop Loppis Vintage have so far only focused on Instagram. The founder Agnes Zelei posts various outfit combinations in her Instagram stories every day, advice and sales run via private messages. The orders can then be picked up personally in the store.
5. More sales through the marketplace
The Berlin designer Anastasiya Koshcheeva and her company Moya set up an online shop on the Amazon platform. It also sells furniture and decorative objects made from Siberian birch bark. Before the lockdown, Koshcheeva had sold her products directly to furniture stores, but with the trading platform on Amazon she was able to expand her customer base and was prepared when the first lockdown came.
But Marcus Diekmann from Rose Bikes does not advise all dealers to have a large marketplace. They would be suitable if you wanted to get rid of your inventory quickly or if you had a special product of your own like the pieces of furniture made from birch bark. “Otherwise, retailers may not survive the price war on trading platforms,” he says. Together with Amazon and the HDE trade association, he founded the “Quickstart Online” knowledge portal, which is aimed at retailers who have not yet been involved in e-commerce. It could serve as a guide to inform yourself in advance.
One of the greatest learnings that Diekmann took away from his initiative, however, is the “test, learn, build bigger” approach, retailers should try out their new business models and ultimately improve and expand them. You don’t need any strategy concepts or an agency to go digital as a retailer, he says. Basically, in the first step, WhatsApp is enough to advise customers.