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Retailers Emphasize E-Commerce To Offset Coronavirus Impact

Some independent gourmet retailers are putting plans in motion, including a renewed emphasis on e-commerce, to help offset potential dips in store traffic and sales as Coronavirus concerns spread and consumers limit their social interaction.

While some retailers surveyed by GOURMET INSIDER® reported no change in business, others said they already are feeling a pinch.

Charles Nelson, owner of Santa Cruz, CA-based Toque Blanche said sales during first few days of March were off a bit from last year.

“My assumption is that it has to do with the virus and some of the other things that surround it, like the volatility in the stock markets and other anxieties. People are holding on to their money,” he said.

Nelson said he has cut back on purchasing a bit, buying in reduced quantities until things return to a more normal pace. But, he has noticed a trend that he feels may continue for awhile – his online business has increased.

“My online sales are up over last year, but not enough to balance a loss of in-store sales,” he said. “My main concern is cash flow and keeping my employees employed for the number of hours I would like them to be here.”

JoAnne Strandberg, co-owner of Chelan, WA-based Culinary Apple, has seen the focus in her state shift. Washington state was the first to report a Coronavirus death. The Chelan area, where the store is located, counts on heavy foot traffic and travelers. But, she said, she hasn’t seen this impact on her business as of yet.

“We do rely on visitors from the Seattle area where many of the confirmed cases have been found, but we won’t know if this will impact travel plans in the coming weeks or months just yet,” she said.

Like Nelson, Strandberg has put a plan in place to make sure she is able to capture sales in an online capacity if there is a major shift in the business she is seeing in-store.

“We plan to do more social media posts promoting our online business, and to remind our customers that we can ship items to them, including our fudge if they need a little comfort food. We already offer local delivery at no charge, but will promote that more to our customers in the coming weeks if foot traffic really drops off,” she said.

Cat Fisher, owner of South Orange, NJ-based Kitchen a la Mode, is also in an area where there are many Coronavirus concerns. Its proximity to New York City and Newark, as well as the international airports, has its residents taking precautions. Fisher told Gourmet Insider that while she has not seen a decrease in foot traffic year-over-year, the store has already changed the way it does business as it braces for impact.

“So far, we have cancelled demonstrations,” she said. “The schools have all taken professional development days to plan if they need to shut down and how they will accomplish remote schooling. I think schools shutting down will be when we see the largest impact. We are hoping for the best but as it spreads across the U.S., we are preparing for the worst,” added Fisher.

While some may be shifting the way they do business for now, Sean Gartland, owner of Fenton, MI-based Feast Gourmet Kitchen Shop, said there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. While he hasn’t seen a drop-off in business or in cooking class attendance, he said that being a small business could be an advantage to heavily-impacted areas when the smoke clears.

“I feel like people will be more apt to shop locally instead of at a big-box store. Those stores contain a lot more people and I feel like people will not want to be in that environment,” he said.

Nelson, however, thinks that it may not be so easy for the shop local movement to bounce back.

“During [other times of crisis], there was quite a drive for people to support local businesses. But, this is different people are being told to stay home. We still have to see how all of this will play out,” he said.


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