by AMY SALDANHA, founder and CEO, kiddywampus

Starting in March — and every day since then — naysayers have been saying that retail will be destroyed. Many have said that “things will never be the same again,” that “we’re in the ‘new normal,’” and that “the times are reminiscent of the Great Depression.”

While the pundits are making pronouncements, specialty toy retailers — and small business owners of every sector — are reacting with a “challenge accepted” attitude, pivoting on all fronts overnight with a relentless determination to save their businesses. Here are some ways in which specialty retailers across the U.S. are responding during these unprecedented times.

REACHING CUSTOMERS IN NEW WAYS

Stores that were already offering online shopping are further ramping up their product selection and processing capabilities. Specialty retailers are using this crisis as a catalyst for change, rapidly embracing new technologies, such as CommentSold, and other social media selling platforms to stay connected to their customers and provide an easy shopping experience.

DELIVERING NEW — AND BETTER — CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES

With many stores closed to the public, personal shopping experiences are becoming the norm. Many specialty retailers are creating curated selections for customers in the ultimate “segment of one” customer experience approach. From Facebook Live shopping events to private FaceTime appointments, we are engaging customers in — and sometimes introducing them to — new modes of interaction and unparalleled experiences.

kiddywampus puts together mystery boxes for customers. Source: kiddywampus

TAILORING PRODUCTS

We know our customers — and we know their shopping needs have changed with the new realities of distance learning and working from home. While caregivers attempt to balance parenting and work, their toy needs and preferences are shifting to puzzles, single-player games, educational offerings, and kits to keep kids engaged for longer periods of time. We are using our intimate knowledge of what matters to our customers to shift our focus to different toys and to generate new offerings, such as bundling existing inventory to create mystery boxes.

DELIVERING NEW SERVICES

So many services that seemed impossible three months ago have now become core to how we are doing business now. Stores are creating curbside pickup locations (complete with signage) and sanitizing stations to keep products and customers safe. Owners everywhere are taking on the extra challenge of local delivery and mapping out daily routes. Others are taking it up a notch in pricing sophistication by discounting orders placed on the same block.

IMAGINING RETAIL IN THE FUTURE

Our stores are community hubs — they are spaces in which families gather to have fun, connect, and learn. In the midst of highly varied and location-specific guidelines, retailers are examining how to retain this connection point while making their stores safe for customers and employees. From sanitizing stations and the mandatory use of face masks to limits on the number of people allowed in the store, we will continue to develop best practices to keep connections strong in this difficult time.

REMAINING HUMAN IN DEHUMANIZING TIMES

We are continuing to operate in the midst of extraordinary challenges. We have lost friends and family members to COVID-19. We have parents in nursing homes and kids who have lost their senior years, state tournaments, proms, and graduations. We have made every effort to protect the wellness (physical, mental, and economic) of our employees in the face of the harsh realities of mandated shutdowns. We are beyond exhausted (like everyone else) and still keep hustling.

Challenge accepted. We will keep going until we all get through this.


This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue ofthe Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!