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By David A. Kelly
What do you do when your customers depend on your services during COVID-19?
That was the challenge faced by Just Between Friends, a nationwide sponsor of seasonal pop-up community marketplaces that enable families to buy and sell new or used items for deeply discounted prices. Just like many other businesses, the company had to shut down its retail sales in the spring of 2020 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Having to close our sales because of the pandemic was devastating to both local Just Between Friends business owners and to the local families that rely on the sales to get the clothes, books, toys, and other goods needed for their growing children,” says Allison Stephens, a Just Between Friends franchise owner in Tacoma, Washington. “Our customers were really, really wishing we could hold the sales again. With kids home from school and looking for things to do, it was exactly the time that having access to discounted sports equipment, activities, toys, and media would have been helpful for our customers.”
The experience of a business like Just Between Friends finding its way back from the pandemic shutdown shows how small companies are finding new ways to be resilient during challenging times.
Serving the local community
Just Between Friends has 160 franchise locations across the country.
Its seasonal sales enable families of all kinds to generate extra cash from unused items or clothes, books, toys, and other things that children have outgrown. At the same time, it provides the opportunity for customers to purchase household items, from strollers to roller skates, for discounts 50% – 90% off retail prices.
“We have hundreds of families that come and sell items that their kids have grown out of and thousands of families that come to shop for everything that their kids need,” Stephens says.
Even though Just Between Friends sales are pop-up events, they are run very much like a traditional retail store. The only difference is Just Between Friends events only happen a few times per year.
“Because our sales occur for limited periods, there’s really a sense of urgency when our customers come,” Stephens says. “Traditionally that generates a lot of excitement about shopping early and trying to get the lowest prices and best selection.”
But like most other local businesses, when COVID-19 flared up in March and April of 2020, Just Between Friends sales were hit hard. As communities shut retail stores, Just Between Friends sales also had to shut down.
As soon as local governments started allowing retail stores to reopen, the company was ready. “We were able to comply with safety guidelines, including requiring face masks, providing for social distancing on the sales floor, creating safe checkout areas, and communication ahead of time to have families minimize the number of people shopping,” Stephens says.
A big area of focus for Just Between was the checkout process. “We had to rethink the interactions between clerks and customers,” Stephens says. “How close would they stand? What things would be touched? What communications needed to happen? What were the appropriate distances?”
Part of making the checkout process safe and effective was touch-free payment. For her first sale after reopening, Stephens implemented PayPal QR Codes at checkout at her local Just Between Friends sale.
“We don’t have our customers sign credit card receipts anymore. Instead, we rely on chip readers and PayPal’s QR Codes solution,” Stephens says. “It’s a really smooth system. It allows the shoppers to initiate payment on their smartphones with their PayPal app and by scanning a QR code. PayPal QR Codes were our favorite way to maintain social distance and provide a touch-free checkout process for both our staff and our customers.”
PayPal’s touch-free QR code solution not only helps make shopping safe, but it means fast transactions. “PayPal QR Codes work great and they’re instant transactions,” Stephens says. “As the merchant, I can see the money flow immediately into our PayPal wallet.”
Returning to a “new normal”
Implementing new touch-free payment options was just one step in getting Just Between Friends local sales back up and serving families.
In addition to spacing its checkout registers farther apart, making the sales floor socially-distanced, providing hand sanitizer stations, and requiring the use of masks, Just Between Friends made a big change to its sales model to create a COVID-19-safe shopping environment.
Instead of having customers arrive early and flood the sales floor like a Black Friday-type sales event, the company decided to stagger its traffic by assigning customers entry times.
“Because of our low prices, Just Between Friends sales often involved big crowds at the beginning that are trying to get the best deals,” Stephens says. “So instead of allowing a free for all at our sales, which we knew would not be safe, we ticketed our entry so that we’d have 50 people every thirty minutes, instead of 500 at one time.”
By offering new ways to shop and pay for items, Just Between Friends can continue serving their communities safely. “With these new COVID-19 safety measures in place, our shoppers are expressing such gratitude,” Stephens says. “I can’t tell you the number of people that have found me at a sale just to say thank you for making this happen. It’s so important for them to be able to access this resource to provide for their families and they’re very grateful and thankful that we found a way to do it safely.”
For more information on how QR codes are making shopping simpler and payments safe, visit PayPal.
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