What We’ve Learned From Businesses That Are Surviving the Pandemic So Far

·4 min read
jimkruger / iStock.com
jimkruger / iStock.com

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to many businesses both big and small. As of September 2020, nearly 100,000 businesses had permanently closed as a result of the pandemic, Fortune reported. Many others are struggling to survive, with major companies like JCPenney and Gold’s Gym filing for bankruptcy last year.

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But some big companies — like Target and Home Depot — have managed to weather the economic storm. While a lot of this has to do with the nature of the goods and services they provide, there are some lessons other businesses can take away from the few that have survived — and even thrived — during a very difficult year.

Think of Physical Stores as Distribution Hubs

Having physical retail spaces turned out to be a big plus for big-box stores like Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s, which began to utilize their stores as distribution hubs in addition to being sites for in-store purchases. People who wanted or needed items ASAP could order items from these retailers online and pick them up in-store or curbside, many times within an hour or two. These fulfillment capabilities paid off big for Target — during the first half of 2020, Target’s curbside pickup service grew by 700% and its in-store pickup sales increased by 60%, the company reported.

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“With the strength of our unique, multi-category assortment and the flexibility we offer through our reliable and convenient fulfillment options, we gained nearly $9 billion in market share in 2020 and grew our revenue by $15 billion, which is more than the 11 prior years combined,” Brian Cornell, chairman and chief executive officer of Target Corporation, said in the company’s most recent earnings report.

Smaller businesses should aim to offer these same fulfillment conveniences: Allow customers to place orders online that they can pick up in-store or curbside.

Invest in Your Workforce

In July 2020, Target fast-tracked its plan to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, and Best Buy and Walmart soon followed, Forbes reported. In addition, these retailers offered their workers bonuses and paid sick days, and instituted stricter safety measures. These investments were made to maintain and attract a workforce that is trained well and able to multitask during these high-demand times.

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“Our workforce will need to evolve in a way that meets the needs of customers while providing more flexible opportunities for our employees,” Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said in a February earnings call.

Although smaller businesses may be struggling right now, keeping employees happy will be essential to keep things running smoothly in trying times. If you can’t offer pay increases, look for other ways to show your appreciation.

Offer Same-Day Delivery

Target has seen sales via the same-day delivery service Shipt jump 350% year-over-year during the pandemic, the company reported. This offering can make a company competitive with Amazon, which still remains the business to beat in the retail space.

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Small businesses may partner with a third-party service to offer same-day delivery of their goods, or hire dedicated delivery people to fulfill orders ASAP.

Don’t Sacrifice Quality

Target is known for offering high-quality products and a high-quality shopping experience, which is what keeps customers coming back. When the company veered off this course for a few years, its sales suffered; its current CEO Brian Cornell was, fortunately, able to turn things around by putting the emphasis back on the quality of the goods sold at Target, Forbes reported.

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“Target’s whole existence is to sell stuff that wasn’t Walmart fall-apart, but Target ‘Tarjay,'” Brandon Fletcher, an analyst with Bernstein, told Forbes. “Cornell went back to Target making really good stuff — good enough that people again call it Tarjay.”

Smaller businesses shouldn’t sacrifice quality for the sake of their bottom line, because this could end up backfiring.

Make Shoppers Feel Safe

As the pandemic continues, it’s important to make customers feel safe when shopping in-store. Walmart was quick to jump on adding extra safety protocols, which may in part account for its popularity among shoppers. By the end of March 2020, the company had ordered masks and gloves for its associates, ahead of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention advisory for everyone to wear masks.

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“We encourage anyone who would like to wear a mask or gloves at work to ask their supervisor for them,” a March 31, 2020 release from John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. and Kath McLay, president and CEO of Sam’s Club stated.

Smaller businesses should also do all that they can to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.

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