Very few small businesses, like breweries or wineries, have had any experience with a global pandemic before COVID – 19. It is true that craft brewing and distilling in Canada has always been challenging, but never quit like this. Craft beverage producers have learned to manage and adjust to a wide variety of situations before and they can adjust to this.
Besides survival, there is opportunity. This pandemic in Canada has exposed critical cracks in the foundation of many businesses of all sizes. Most of these cracks may never have become apparent in a normal business environment, but the COVID-19 stress test exposed them. So now what? Go back to normal?
We have come up with 4 major “pivots” for craft breweries, distilleries and wineries to seriously adopt.
Your business has to adapt to a new digital normal as the Canadian economy and consumer behaviour will never be the same. These four strategies will give you a head start.
Sell Online. Now.
The pandemic has accelerated digital adoption, especially among consumers who remain hesitant to leave their homes. Consumers have become used to online tools that expedite delivery.
Canadian companies that had an online presence were able to survive. Yet while there are over 150,000 small and medium retail businesses in Canada, only 17% are selling online today.
Overnight, some alcohol businesses have found themselves on the cutting edge, offering digital discounts ,curbside pickup, and automating workflows to improve their customer experience. Despite tasting room lockdowns, international border closures, and supply-chain disruptions, some craft beverage producers have grown.
From now on, more than ever, you must adopt digital technologies to transform your business model and operations. This will include selling online, but also should include creating digital services, online customer communication and the use of online platforms to gain efficiencies and create customer value.
The most efficient distribution model companies can pivot to are online ordering (delivery and curbside pick-up) and e-commerce (shipping)
Offering products online can insulate your brand against the next crisis. If you’re not selling DTC online, you might have no way to sell at all if a future crisis results in similar lockdowns, travel bans, and store closures. Don’t leave your brand’s fate in the hands of your retail distribution partners.
Focus on Interactive Communication
The craft beer, spirits and wine business depends on a great deal of face to face interactions with customers. From tasting rooms to tasting events…the business is very personal. The crisis has proven that this is not always possible.
Small businesses have to develop innovative and consistent ways to reach their customer base. Using email, online newsletters, social media, virtual tastings….to reach out to customers.
The message itself is important, Local businesses need to change the narrative and focus on 3 key areas when communicating.
Empathy. Let consumers know that your company understands the dire social circumstances at play and cares about more than simply “getting open” and getting back to profitability during this difficult time.
Education. Tell them about all changes to your operation, including new hours, facility closures, staff reductions, customer service availability, among others.
Expand. Tell your existing customers how you are serving them in new ways. Focus on the positive ways that your company is handling safety as well as new delivery options.
Adopt Frictionless Commerce
Frictionless commerce was emerging on numerous fronts prior to the pandemic, but shelter-in-place and social distancing measures have significantly increased the demand for retail experiences that minimize time in-store, amount of touchpoints and proximity to other people.
Technology has led to a marked increase in retail “to go’, with consumers comfortable using apps to place and pay “contact free” for an order. They want the selection, payment and delivery to be as friction free as possible….. be it in-store, at their table, curbside or home delivery.
This is not a quick fix. Public health experts have warned that social distancing requirements may be necessary to some degree for the next two years. Refining the customer experience now and equipping your business with emerging, innovative technology will position your brand to not only endure these changes but actually increase sales and brand reputation in the future.
Market like it’s Peak Season.
Current Canadian online shopper behaviour is comparable to holiday buyer behavior. Customers want a simple ordering and delivery process and are motivated by promotions and incentives. Aim to provide promotions frequently. Be sure to feature them on your website,on social media and in a select mix of paid marketing channels.
As consumers spend more time at home, it’s more likely your ads on Facebook or Google will be noticed and your posts will be read as they provide a much-needed pause from the daily routine of working and spending free time at home. Consumers are looking for a call to action from local businesses. Online flash sales, discounts and free shipping are getting attention. Locals want to help out. Give them a reason.
“We believe that successful wineries, breweries, and distilleries five years from now will be those that adapted to a different consumer with different values — a customer who uses the internet in increasingly complex and interactive ways. Successful craft beverage producers will be those that evolve retail strategies away from their location as the sole point of experience and find other, scalable means of delivering their products — and the experience — to consumers where they live.”Dallas Robinson