Retailers are fighting against the lockdown with new business models

Using six examples, we show how entrepreneurs have used the opportunities of the digital world with some of the simplest means and thus built up an alternative to their stationary business.

“Our great potential is my fearlessness,” says Simona Libner. “You need someone in front of the camera who is not embarrassed.” But their live streams are not entertainment, they are practically shopping TV on the Internet.

In times of lockdown, she uses them as a direct channel to sell blouses, trousers or coats. The viewers can ask questions about the products in the chat. And best of all, strike it during the demonstration in the webshop.

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Libner, who runs three boutiques in the Rhineland under the name “Fräulein – Mode und Wohnen”, is an entrepreneur who is not afraid to just try something new. The first lockdown last year at the latest was a wake-up call for her: “Even stationary retail has to break new ground,” she recognized, and it was clear to her: “We’re going ahead.”

In the summer she started the preparations. She was supported in this by the Competence Center Retail, which the retail association HDE set up together with the Federal Ministry of Economics to advise retailers on digitization issues.

Simona Libner

The owner of the boutique “Fräulein – Mode und Wohnen” sells her goods via live stream in the network during lockdown.

(Photo: Fräulein – Mode und Wohnen)

The big advantage of selling via live stream: It can be realized with little technical effort. To get started, all you need is a smartphone, such as a ring light for illumination and a clip-on microphone. It is sent via the Instagram account. “Authenticity is more crucial than investing in expensive equipment,” advises e-commerce expert Mark Steier, who runs the renowned industry blog Wortfilter.

2. Showcase as a sales platform

On the night of December 16, when the second lockdown came into effect in Germany, Heike Siemons tinkered in her small home accessories store “Madame Albertine” until half past two at night. She pushed shelves from the sales room into the shop window and stocked them with as many goods as she could get in. Every product, whether it be a cushion cover, candle holder or bag, was given its own number.

She wrote down the prices in an overview catalog and hung the note in the shop window. The new sales concept was ready: window shopping. In English, the word image refers to window shopping, in Siemons the name is to be taken literally.

“The customers have accepted window shopping well,” reports the Düsseldorf entrepreneur. In order forms, which Siemons has also hung on the window pane, passers-by can write down their wishes and put them in a mailbox.

You can also order digitally via Facebook or Instagram. When ordering by telephone, the numbering of the products also pays off, customers can name exactly what they want. For the shopkeeper, this is an opportunity to save at least part of her sales this winter.

3. Personal Shopping per Videochat

Spring goods were crowding into the store, but Nicole Stumpe, owner of the Oldenburg boutique “Wunderwerk”, had by no means sold the mountain of winter goods that were now piling up. A situation that many retailers in Germany are currently familiar with. Then the businesswoman came up with an idea: individual video shopping.

Stumpe made personal video links with her customers, in which she led through the shelves with reduced winter goods and the customers picked out individual items. Such video conferences sometimes lasted 45 minutes, says Stumpe, but customers usually found what they were looking for. “Some selected 25 parts – and only sent a very few back.” With a discount of 50 percent, there was almost no profit left for the shop, but space in the warehouse and the cost of goods were saved.

Nicole Stumpe

The owner of the Oldenburg fashion store Wunderwerk guides her customers through the store via video chat.

(Photo: Wunderwerk)

The entrepreneur wants to continue the concept of video shopping; she is currently showing her customers the freshly arrived spring collection. So far, she has completed a total of 40 video sessions with her customers. Stumpe likes to deliver the ordered parcels by car himself – a service that many Oldenburg shops are offering in the second lockdown. “It’s nice to be able to say hello to my customers from a distance,” she says. The entrepreneur doesn’t want to let the crisis get her down: “I will definitely make it,” she says.

She also posts films or photo compilations on Facebook and Instagram, where they are called “Stories” or “Reels”. A completely new profession for the business owner, who before the corona crisis only advised her customers in the store. In the summer she attended a webinar for social media – which is now helping her in the second lockdown.

4. Advice via WhatsApp

Fine crockery and glasses, kitchen utensils and toys: Many of the products that Tobias Schonebeck offers require explanation. The WhatsApp communication service offers the managing partner of the traditional company Schäffer the opportunity to advise his customers even in lockdown – and to handle the sale right away.

“Each department has its own smartphone and its own PC variant so that it can respond immediately and also send photos and videos,” explains the businessman from Osnabrück. That is well received, as the example of an older couple shows who wanted to give their sick grandchild a music box. “In the video chat we were able to show the selection, let the melody play and finally found the model we wanted.” That was then delivered to the child in the hospital with a recovery card and a customer greeting on behalf of the couple.

The smartphone is looked after by someone responsible for the day or a team so that these people can use it very well. Consumers can pick up their purchases on site at the service point, or they can be delivered to their home using city logistics.

5. More sales through the marketplace

Anastasiya Koshcheeva was also somewhat lucky. In 2019 she won a professional coaching as a prize winner in the competition “Women Entrepreneurs of the Future”. With this help, she has an online shop on the platform Amazon built up. So the trader was prepared when the first lockdown came.

The designer Koshcheeva creates in her company Moya pieces of furniture and decorative objects that are made from Siberian birch bark using traditional methods. She usually sells these through numerous furniture stores and also through the branches of the Manufactum chain. Her new platform business gave her a real boost despite the crisis. Because now the Berliner does not only find her customers in Germany, but worldwide.

“After I launched the online shop, I increased my sales by 50 percent within a few months,” she reports. Last year she was able to expand her business and hire several additional craftsmen in her production facility in Siberia.

6. Click & Collect as a door opener

But not only small companies were flexible in the crisis and looked for new ways to reach customers. For Ikea’s furniture stores, for example, Click & Collect, i.e. collecting goods ordered online, was only a niche until the beginning of last year. But in lockdown it became the most important sales channel.

The process is very simple, you order the goods, pay with a card and choose the nearest furniture store to pick up, then you are allocated a time window and can pick up the goods at the entrance or exit, depending on the order number. The matter is well organized, there are no long lines.

At ten euros, the whole thing is not exactly cheap, undoubtedly cheaper than a parcel delivery or delivery by a forwarding agency, but still: At Ikea you not only buy sofas and beds, but also shelves and boxes and odds and ends.

The Ikea houses now look completely different inside, employees say. They walk through the aisles and fill the shopping carts for each order, which are then maneuvered near the pick-up point depending on the time slot. The arriving customers then have to step on a yellow or orange dot and, after showing the order number, get the car in front of their feet in a friendly manner and at a distance. The result: Thanks to Click & Collect, Ikea has so far neither needed state aid nor has it had to apply for short-time work.

More: Pioneers and those who are left behind: The retail sector will continue to split

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