By Sherry Smith
sherry@edgeretailacademy.com
Sherry Smith is director of business development for data and consulting company The Edge Retail Academy. She can be reached at sherry@edgeretailacademy.com.
Every day is unique as we navigate the unchartered waters of attempting to contain this global pandemic, COVID-19.

We are faced daily with making difficult decisions that affect not only us but our families, our staff and our communities.

While there are many unknown variables currently, there appear to be a few common concerns.

My area is forcing all nonessential businesses to close; how do I approach this?

What about my staff? Do I pay them or should be this be unpaid leave?

While there is no one right answer for everyone, there are things that you can continue to do to be proactive and while some of these might sound cliché, they do matter.

First, if you are a retailer that must close due to local mandate or a dramatic decline in foot traffic, that doesn’t mean your business shouldn’t be accessible.

1. Utilize chat features. If you’re a retailer currently using Podium, then you already have this feature. If you don’t, I highly recommend you get one set up immediately. This will allow you to communicate to your customers via your website. Let them know you’re still available to assist them. Use split shifts to man your chat log, which also will allow you to offer some hours to your personnel.


2. Update your website regularly. Post daily about your adjusted hours, closing, etc. Also, post contact information that includes email, texting and chat details. Let customers know you will be posting daily to keep them coming back to your site.

3. Stay social. Use Instagram, Facebook and social media as tools to communicate to your customers and community.

4. Utilize email blasts. The vast majority of people are house-bound and are currently attached to their devices. This is a perfect time to send out weekly email blasts. In addition to letting your customers know you’re accessible and still doing business—albeit remotely—email blasts also let them know services you might still be offering, such as curbside pickup or deliveries. Feature those specially priced pieces you’ve been anxious to move.

5. Don’t forget your devices. Take some photos of your products to use when working with your customers via email and/or chat. Our devices are a great selling tool and never was there a better time to use them. Use Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc., to enhance the connection. It’s impressive how interactive and personal the experience can be on those type of apps.
“None of us have been here before—and may we never be again—but we’re all in this together.”
Secondly—and I would rank this as extremely important—help your employees work through this challenging time by staying aware of any and all programs designed to assist them through their potential unpaid leave.

1. General aid. Find out what programs and subsidizing are available for them.

2. Credit card deferment. Apple Card already has offered deferred payments through this challenging time. Encourage your staff to contact their creditors to see if they’re offering the same, especially if they’re on unpaid leave for the unforeseen future. Many credit card companies are already taking a proactive approach to help people through these unusual times.

3. Federal government aid. Learn the details about the relief bill Congress passed and the president signed into law earlier this week. According to CBS News, the bill includes free coronavirus testing, increased funding for Medicaid and state unemployment insurance, and paid sick, family and medical leave for workers at companies with 500 employees or fewer.

Are you aware of these details? Be prepared to discuss them with your employees, and please note: as of this writing, there are other bills being debated in Congress, including a $1 trillion economic stimulus plan that could include $250 million in aid for small businesses and checks for individual Americans.

4. Mortgage relief. Options are available. Find out the details and share the information with your staff. Other entities, including utility companies and student loan servicers, are following suit.

5. Put it all together. Compile a cheat sheet for your team to help assuage their worry. Make sure you include community and government assistance programs.

As to whether your employees take unpaid leave versus paid leave, that is reliant on your financial picture. Be smart and prudent. Assess your savings versus operating costs.

Adjustments made now can mean saved jobs later.

Be transparent in your conversations with your team. Offer a weekly or biweekly chat to update them as the effects of this virus continue to unfold.

Finally, and this might be the cliché part, try to remain positive.

None of us have been here before—and may we never be again—but we’re all in this together. This is the time for us to lean on each other, to brainstorm solutions, and to continue to focus on the things we can control.

Be empathetic. Be proactive. Be a role model. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Sherry Smith is director of business development for data and consulting company The Edge Retail Academy. In her role, Smith works with wholesalers, brands and retail stores on business mentoring, and data analysis and aggregation. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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