More than 10 weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, independent business owners have shown tremendous resiliency and a willingness to adapt that can only be described as remarkable. And all you need to do is look at the results of Nationwide Marketing Group’s latest survey of its members and the wider independent retail channel to get a sense of just how nimble the business owners who make up this channel are.
Conducted over a two-day period last week, the survey found that nearly two-thirds (60%) of dealers made sort of some adjustment to their brick-and-mortar operations between April 1 and the middle of May. Broken down, 27% said they moved to reduced hours, 19% were asked to close under government order for a period of time and another 7% voluntarily closed their stores.
However, as their doors closed, dealers turned their attention toward making improvements to their websites. Of the retailers surveyed, just over half reported making some sort of enhancement to their digital presence. Of those who made a website enhancement, 33% added e-commerce functionality, 31% added online chat as a feature on their websites and 14% started producing live demo videos. And those enhancements, understandably, paid off for dealers. When looking at their online traffic patterns between April 1 and mid-May, 60% of survey respondents said traffic to their websites had increased. Just 7% of dealers reported a decrease in website traffic.
Success was noticeable beyond just traditional website visits, though. Year-over-year comparable sales have also improved. In the latest survey, 49% of dealers reported growth in their sales comps, and another 9% reported that sales were flat. That’s a marked improvement over the previous survey conducted just one month earlier. In that April 2 report, just 36% of retailers said their comps were growing, and another 10% reported flat sales. Further, 43% reported a comp sales decrease in the latest survey compared to 63% who reported the same in the month prior.
At least part of the sales success, according to the survey, could be attributed to the recent federal stimulus payments made to Americans. Of those surveyed, 60% of dealers said they believed those payments — which totaled as much as $1,200 per individual — positively impacted sales in their stores.
And on the topic of federal stimulus payments, the survey provided a positive glimpse at how independent retailers were able to benefit from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. According to Nationwide’s latest survey, 78% of dealers said they were able to secure funding through PPP, while 20% reported receiving EIDL aid.
Additional help for retailers appears to be on the way in the form of physical shoppers. At the time of the survey, states across the country had begun relaxing some of the more stringent stay-at-home orders while also attempting to continue encouraging social distancing. The impact with the relaxed orders could already be seen in this latest survey. A combined 45% of dealers reported seeing an increase in in-store foot traffic, compared to 32% who said they experienced a decrease in foot traffic. Those are vast improvements compared to last month, when just 6% reported an increase in foot traffic and 89% reported a decrease.
For more information on Nationwide’s quick-turn member surveys and other Back to Business resources, visit the Nationwide Back to Business Hub.