The coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is a global challenge without parallel in our living history. All industries are adjusting the way they operate in what is a fluid situation.
Among the best advice jewelry thought leaders are sharing during this unprecedented time is to focus on the things you can control. Or, as Jon Bon Jovi sings in his latest song: “If you can’t do what you do, you do what you can.”
Assess your finances. “You can’t make good decisions if you don’t know your starting point,” said Andrea Hill of the Hill Management Group in a recent webinar hosted by InStore. “Do a clear-eyed review of your finances.” How much do you have in the bank? How much is owed vendors? How much do you need to pay employees? How long can you go paying the bills?
Be proactive and communicate with your creditors for deferred payments, advised Sherry Smith, director of business operations for The Edge Retail Academy, also on the webinar with Hill. Connect with vendor partners on how you can work together, things like special terms, drop shipping, coop advertising, and social media support.
Check with your insurance company to see if you have business interruption coverage, and if closure due to illness and/or government mandate qualifies, advises Kate Peterson, president of Performance Concepts.
Confer with your accountant and tax advisor regarding the best outcome for your employees and business, whether to furlough or layoff, says Liz Chatelain, president of MVI Marketing. She notes that right now the federal government is throwing money at the problem with Economic Injury Disaster Loan Assistance, Paycheck Protection Program, and unemployment compensation.
Be open with your staff. “They’re frightened too, and deserve good information,” said Hill, who encourages jewelers to lead with their values.
Be a digital marketer. With disruptions to travel and gatherings, and social distancing the current protocol, how we do business is changing at warp speed. The shift to online from physical retail just caught a major tailwind with mandated closures of non-essential businesses throughout the nation.
“This isn’t just for during the crisis, because people are developing new habits and many will stick,” said Hill. “Start making a rational digital strategic plan now, and be prepared to implement it over the next several months.” It’s critical your web site is engaging and equipped with e-commerce.
Diamond industry thought leader Martin Rapaport underscored this point in a recent webinar hosted by the Rapaport Group. “Internet technology is becoming fully integrated in our lives now. As schools, businesses, markets close, electronic ways of doing business is the only lifeline.”
Customers already expect ease in connecting, communicating and learning; and speed in real-time response to and proactive forecasting of needs for the companies with whom they do business, finds the customer-experience consulting firm Walker in its Customers 2020 Progress Report.
Videos on social media are going to be critical to staying in business, believes Barbara Palumbo, watch and jewelry journalist and blogger for adornamentality.com and whatsonherwrist.com. “People are home from work, so you have a captive audience. If you’re still working at a physical location and receiving shipments, create a YouTube channel, or use Facebook or Instagram LIVE while you film an ‘unboxing’ of what’s new.”
Also, a fan of short videos, Chatelain advocates jewelers tell stories. “Share the reasons you’re in the jewelry business. Talk about the pieces you love and places you’ve been for gems and jewelry. Share photos. Answer questions. Show how to clean jewelry. As entertainment, you’re proving your value!”
Build customer relationships. It’s not an easy time to sell new customers, but it is a critical time to build existing customer relationships, underscored Hill. “It’s the time to check in with customers.” Mail a note, make a personal call, send an email or text, and engage on social media. Have authentic conversations with your customers. Share how your business is coping, what you are doing with your family, and inspiring human-interest stories.
Customer intelligence is a key component of effective customer relationship management, and when effectively implemented, it’s a rich source of insights into the behaviors and experiences of a company’s customer base. Get a handle on what data exists in your organization, how it is being used, and take the time to update your database. Focus on gathering and managing intelligence that helps you create deeper relationships with your customers.
“When you really know your customers, you can curate products for them, things that they want, need, and love,” said Rapaport, encouraging jewelers to be advocates for their customers and use technology to target their messaging.
Plan for change. Marketers are advised to plan for potential long-term changes to their customers’ underlying psychology, and the values underpinning their purchasing decisions. Although experts agree assessing this is complicated.
In times of crisis research shows people engage in comfort-seeking experiences that bring them a sense of control, like buying things, cites Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing. But in the short term, she sees uncertainty a barrier to discretionary shopping in general. But long term, it may predispose people to make choices based on their underlying sense of identity. “People may be more likely to choose environmentally conscious brands in the future, a trend we already see in the culture. [Or], it may predispose them to indulge in more luxury purchases as significant to their self-esteem.”
Jewelry always sells, assured Hill, but the things that sell tend to change during crises and recessions. “Most fine jewelry sales shifted to silver in the 1930s and 1940s. During recessions, lower price points matter. Styles change, typically getting simpler and smaller.”
It’s important for jewelers to be light on their toes, said Hill, and not merchandise or market the way they always have. “Stay positive, be proactive and creative, and surround yourself with good advice and the best input possible.”