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By David A. Kelly
With the pandemic making everything from work to school to social gatherings a virtual experience, it may feel natural to head online for all your purchases this year, too. But local businesses could be an excellent, and safe, option.
“Small, local stores make up the fabric of a neighborhood,” says Linda de Valpine, owner of Greentail Table, a modern tabletop and home entertaining wares store in Newton, Mass. “We offer a curated selection of items in a warm and inviting atmosphere—one can come in, get inspiration, and receive personal recommendations.”
Keeping that personal touch in the community is critical. “The more we keep our local main streets bustling, the better all of our local economies will be,” says Lauren Beitelspacher Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Babson College.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, local businesses were there to help. “For many consumers, it was the local retailers that were able to fulfill their needs when the global supply chains shut down earlier in the year,” Beitelspacher says. “Local businesses are vital parts of our community and we should support them.”
Now, with significant experience implementing safety and social distancing guidelines, many Boston-area stores are pulling out all the stops to provide innovative ways to keep customers healthy while they shop.
New modes of delivery
Greentail Table is offering a range of new services to accommodate customers. Like many businesses, the company has done the basics: capacity limits for in-person shopping, a requirement for hand sanitizer before shopping, social distancing requirements, and employees wipe down high-touch surfaces regularly. The store also added an air purifier.
In addition, Greentail Table is helping shoppers stay safe with free local delivery for orders over $50, curbside pickup, and concierge shopping via FaceTime or private appointment.
“The invention of curbside pickup and our ability to pivot to offering free local delivery were critical to keeping us afloat while the store was closed to in-person shopping,” de Valpine says. “We see curbside pickup becoming a permanent option and will continue free local deliveries as long as it makes fiscal sense.”
Touch-free transactions for safer shopping
As many retailers have realized, cash registers and payment processing can involve physical contact, which could be a possible source of infection. That’s why many retailers are now providing touch-free and virtual payment options.
Just Between Friends is a resale marketplace with locations in communities across the nation, including New Hampshire. It offers families opportunities to sell or purchase used goods twice a year through pop-up sales. The company is taking a safety-first approach to its sales this year, with staggered entry times for consumers, socially distanced registers, and new touch-free payment options, including PayPal QR Codes. With PayPal’s touch-free QR code solution, all a customer needs to do to pay is scan the QR code with the PayPal app, enter the amount owed, and tap send. The technology makes for a fast, easy transaction, with less friction for both shoppers and sellers.
“At our recent fall, winter, and holiday sale in October we used the PayPal QR Code[s] payment systems at all our registers to help keep our customers and cashiers safe,” says Allison Stephens, a Just Between Friends franchise owner. “It works great. The transactions happen in an instant and the app gives the customer complete control over the process through their own phone.”
Creative ways of connecting
Although COVID-19 safety measures have been brought about by necessity, some businesses have found they’re adding new possibilities for connecting with customers.
Over the holiday months, Porter Square Books in Cambridge offered a shopping option for its customers called Shop with Your Pod. “For $50 customers could reserve the store for an hour after we closed for a group of up to five people,” says Josh Cook, bookseller and co-owner. “It made it much easier for customers to control who they were shopping with. The fee was a coupon that could be applied to purchases that night.”
They also created a Virtual Bookseller form on their website. Customers who fill it out receive an email list of personalized recommendations crowdsourced by the entire staff. “It is the closest thing online to a conversation in a store with a bookseller that you can get,” Cook says.”
Other stores are also getting creative in response to the pandemic. Sea Howl Bookshop in Orleans on Cape Cod has temporarily switched to curbside service only on weekdays, while opening for browsing on weekends with a two-customer limit. The small local bookstore is also putting to use an architectural feature of its building—a window.
“We have a nice little side window through which we’ve been handing out pickup orders and also interacting with customers, providing recommendations, and taking special orders,” says Kazmira Nedeau, bookseller and co-owner of Sea Howl.
Regardless of the challenges at this time, shopping is about more than just transactions—for small businesses and for customers.
“During these times of social isolation and spending more time at home for work and school, there is a solace that many people seem to find not only in picking up a good book but in the experience of coming into a bookstore to talk about books, or find books for their loved ones, or even make small talk,” Nedeau says. “It’s those human connections we’ve made with customers that have kept us going and that keep us sane.”
For more information on how QR codes are making shopping simpler and payments safe, visit PayPal.
Sponsored by PayPal
How this small business is adapting to COVID-19
With touch-free payments and social distancing in place, Just Between Friends can keep serving its community.