Short-Term Revenue Strategies for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Navigating COVID-19

Storeowner packaging a sweater for shipping and including a thank you note in box.

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has been declared a global pandemic and is having an unprecedented impact on individuals and our economy at large. Times are uncertain, and while we don’t have all the answers, we’re doing everything we can to offer guidance to our customers and small businesses around the world.

As retailers are forced to close their doors to combat further COVID-19 outbreak, one of the biggest concerns (especially among “non-essentials” retailers), is how to compensate for lost in-store revenue.

Below, we'll share a list of resources, along with advice from our in-house experts and partners, that share immediate steps retailers can take to mitigate cash flow constraints, respond to declines in revenue, and redeploy digital marketing spend. You'll also find examples of the steps other businesses have taken in response to COVID-19.

  1. How to inject cash flow into your business
  2. Strategies to boost online sales
  3. Revisit your paid marketing strategy 
  4. How Shopify can help

How to inject cash flow into your business

1. Promote gift cards

Gift cards provide retailers with an immediate infusion of cash and (in most cases) ensure that a customer will return to their business in the future. For businesses with especially thin margins, gift cards can help you stay afloat until the crisis passes.

To further incentivize customers, you can discount gift cards, or even collaborate with complementary local businesses to create co-marketing opportunities that can help you acquire new customers. Finally, to reduce the risk of human contact, you should consider a digital gift card program to include in your social media and email marketing campaigns.

Update from Shopify

Physical and digital gift cards are now available for Shopify merchants on all plans.

Learn how to create a gift card

2. Build a pre-order strategy

Customers understand that it’s an especially challenging time for local retailers. Community-based initiatives have taken off to support local small businesses and help them lock down cash. One approach has been to outright ask customers to pre-order popular products—either by paying a deposit or the full amount.

3. Discount underperforming stock

Non-essential retail will likely see a decline in demand, so businesses in this category are vulnerable to oversupply. Retailers’ main goal in the short term (4-6 weeks) is to make sure they aren’t sitting on cash held up in inventory or deadstock. Even well-run companies can have 20-30% of inventory as deadstock, so now is the time to address it.

  • Use your inventory management and/or reporting apps to perform an ABC inventory analysis to prioritize products by how much value they create for your business. A-grade items are the most valuable, B-grade items are the “middle of the road” products, and C-grade items are the low-value products that don’t individually contribute much value, but collectively account for the hundreds of small transactions.
  • Reduce carrying costs by selling off C-grade products. Consider heavily discounting, bundling, or even selling these products to liquidation retailers. This might seem counterintuitive to your business, but it will provide you with much-needed cash flow and leave room for stock that moves.

NOTE: The COVID-19 situation is developing rapidly, so be cautious of relying on historical sales data to dictate upcoming purchase orders.

4. Extend payables with suppliers

The other side of cash flow is reducing expenses. One way to hold onto working capital is to take longer to pay suppliers. To preserve the integrity (and longevity) of supplier relationships, we recommend retailers work with their suppliers as soon as possible to establish an agreement they both can live with in the short term.

5. Pause standing orders with suppliers

Depending on current demand patterns, and the type of business they run, some retailers may want to slow production down to avoid being stuck with inventory they can’t move. If this applies to you, rethink standing orders for raw materials with suppliers, and press pause on any auto-replenishing algorithms until you know more. This way, you can push back future payments. The sooner you can cancel or defer the order, the better for your supplier relationship.

6. Cut shipping costs 

Shipping costs can eat away at your margins, so if you’re looking to cut back, we recommend the following:

  • Manually fulfill orders where possible.
  • Skip the fancy packaging. You can get free packaging from all major couriers in the United States (USPS, DHL Express, and UPS) and Canada (Canada Post). 
  • Use Shopify Shipping. We’ve negotiated competitive rates for you with major carriers. Plus, you can print your own labels at home or at your store, and schedule pickups with UPS and DHL Express from the admin or directly with USPS and Canada Post.
  • Set up Local Shipping. When customers are close to your business, you can offer a “local delivery” option. Local shipping rates will be automatically applied at checkout to customers in your selected zone.

 7. Apply for government relief

Taking on more debt is typically a last resort, but governments around the world are rolling out financial relief measures to support small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve organized a list of the government-led financial relief programs available for SMBs, including those in North America. We'll update this list daily, and we encourage you to review what your regional government is offering and if you're eligible.

Strategies to boost online sales

As consumers are social distancing and working from home, they’re spending even more time online than ever before. Our recommendation would be to focus on what you can do with your online store and digital marketing to compensate for reduced foot traffic.

Now is the time to revisit your marketing spend and improve the effectiveness of your virtual communications; treat your homepage like your storefront, and transition some of your physical store experience onto your product pages and social media channels. And don’t forget about pay-per-click channels like search and display. 

TIP: If you’ve closed up shop, change your Yelp listings and Google Places info to direct customers to your online store.

1. Reach out to your high-value customers

Since roughly 20% of your customers contribute 80% of your revenue, consider prioritizing your high-value customers to ensure their lifetime loyalty.

Apps like Endear act as a customer relationship management system and a messaging platform, all in one. It’ll keep you and your staff productive while working remotely, allowing you to stay in touch with your customers via text message and email. You can send personalized recommendations and lookbooks that include links to purchase online.

Stay close to customers with Endear

To support Shopify merchants through this crisis, Endear is offering a 30-day free trial plus 50% off for the next six months with the promo code: REMOTERETAIL

Try Endear today

Finally, consider adding live chat to your online store to replicate the 1:1 personalized service customers are used to having in-store.

2. Adapt your marketing messaging

During the coming weeks, brands need to be sensitive to consumers’ needs and rethink their marketing and advertising. That might mean pausing certain campaigns for certain products, and adjusting the copy and creative on ads to better speak to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, you may not want to advertise luggage campaigns with “wanderlust” messaging when there’s a global travel advisory in effect.

However, brands should be cautious of pivoting too far away from their core brand messaging, or worse yet, coming off as opportunistic. Below are some examples of brands who made simple adjustments to their messaging to “read the cultural room” while remaining authentic:

View this post on Instagram

WFH can be cute! All available in store + online 🤗

A post shared by Easy Tiger Goods (@easytigergoods) on

East Tiger Goods features bundled stationary with messaging that addresses the new remote working norm.

3. Create “social experiences” on social media 

In the absence of “IRL experiences”, customers who are in self-isolation are increasingly looking to social media for content and connection. Brands should get creative about how they leverage their social media presence.

From virtual showrooms to live-streamed yoga classes, brands are getting creative with their social media channels and tapping into their already-loyal audiences.

The Livery Shop
The Livery Shop uses Instagram stories to create a virtual fitting room.

4. Offer free shipping or local delivery and pickup

Shipping cost is a barrier for online shoppers, so if you can, consider offering free shipping.

Serve your local customers by offering local delivery. Customers within your delivery area will be able to select “local delivery” when they checkout. You can then track and manage all local orders from your Shopify admin.

Another option to avoid shipping costs is to offer “local pickup”. In other words, local customers can purchase a product online and pick it up from your store (even if you’re not technically open).

5. Extend your return and exchange policy 

On the topic of sensitivity, empathizing with customers’ uncertainty can go a long way. In light of store closures, returns and exchanges become more challenging and could prohibit online purchases. Simply put, people don’t want to be stuck with a product they don’t like.

Extending your return and exchange policy in acknowledgment of the current climate could alleviate buyer doubt and incentivize online sales.

“Will’s
Will’s Vegan Store Founder, Will, sends a sensitive email to customers providing business updates and offering a 365-day return and exchange policy.

6. Try automating your marketing and loyalty programs

Loyalty apps like Marsello can help you to create automated marketing communications to encourage existing customers to shop with you online. You can send targeted and automated emails and texts to drive customers to your website, and even create a customer referral program and attract new customers and reward existing ones for their loyalty. 

Elevate your loyalty

To support Shopify merchants through this crisis, Marsello is offering a 30-day free trial and 50% off for the next six months. The discount is automatically applied in-app.

Try Marsello today

Digital marketing opens up many opportunities to reach customers where they spend their time online. But with diminished cash flow, it might be a good time to rethink your paid marketing mix, spend on tactics where you can see the highest return on investment, and take advantage of the daily and lifetime budget control options available through paid advertising platforms to control your spend.

1. Use retargeting ads to reach your customers

Facebook advertising can help you reach new customers through the custom audiences that you create, which consist of your past customers or social media fans—people who already know and love your business.

You can upload a customer list to Facebook’s Ads Manager and use the platform to engage with your most loyal customers, highlighting gift cards, pre-orders, or other offers we’ve covered in this article.

2. Sell on Instagram 

Over the last two weeks, influencer agency, Obviously, found a 76 percent increase in daily accumulated likes on Instagram #ad posts, and a 22 percent increase in Instagram campaign impressions from last quarter. With such a highly-engaged audience, Instagram can make your brand more discoverable by existing and future customers.

  • Run Instagram story ads. Video stories have become a great way for businesses to make deeper connections and show off their brand’s personality. Make sure to include product links so viewers can make a purchase directly from their app.

3. Show up for intentional shoppers with Google Smart Shopping campaigns

While some advertising can come across as interruptive during this time, search advertising helps you show up specifically for customers who are actively looking for your products. Google Shopping makes it easier for online shoppers to find your brand across YouTube, Google Search, and Gmail.

Google Shopping is relatively simple to set up. You can sync products to the Google Merchant Center, set a budget, then let Google optimize the campaign, so products show up when people search for them across Google’s network.

UPDATE FROM SHOPIFY: Businesses who are new to advertising with Google can get $100 in ad credits when they spend $25. The credit is automatically applied once you create a new Google Ads account and spend $25 through Google channel.

How Shopify can help

Don't hesitate to reach out to our Support team

Our support team is working 24/7 around the globe to support our merchants in any way that they need.

Hire Shopify Experts to ramp up your online business

Gift cards are now available on all plans

Since gift cards can be a powerful tool for retail businesses to bolster their cash flow when in-store selling is tough, we’re making this feature available on all Shopify plans.

We’re also offering an extended 14-day free trial to help make it easier to get your online store up and running. 

Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify