Local businesses say adaptability, ingenuity the keys to pandemic success

WINNIPEG — Contactless ordering, curbside pickup, at-home delivery – all are relatively new buying options most customers are now intimately familiar with, as businesses used new ways to reach customers amid COVID-19 lockdowns.

Before the pandemic, retail was already heading towards a more direct-to-consumer approach, says University of North Dakota Marketing Lecturer Robert Warren.

“What the pandemic did is it sped up that process by about five years,” he said.

Warren says customers now expect an array of in-person, online and mobile buying options from businesses, referred to as “Omni-channel retail.”

“We want to deal with (businesses) when we’re ready,” said Warren. “If that’s two o’clock in the morning when we’re wearing our pajamas, then you as a company better be prepared to do that.”

At-home deliveries saw a major surge during the pandemic. While Amazon may be the best-known online retailer to bring items to a customer’s doorstep, Warren said there is opportunity for more local players.

“It’s ripe for smaller companies to set up locally because they understand a local market the way a national or an international just can’t,” said Warren.

That’s what GoodLocal has essentially done for local Winnipeg businesses for roughly the last year, an idea founder Obby Khan had after noticing a lack of local delivery options.

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“Stores were closed. You couldn’t buy online and couldn’t get it delivered,” said Khan. “So my friend Allie and I came up with the idea of ‘What if we made a marketplace where you could buy everything local and have it packed and shipped directly to your door?”

It has proven to be a successful business model, with GoodLocal growing from a list of four vendors to over four hundred, with room for more.

The company is also preparing plans to work with restaurants and launch a membership service.

Khan says the GoodLocal delivery service will continue to be a boon for years to come for local businesses that may lack the infrastructure to facilitate at-home delivery.

“I think the consumer habit of shopping local and shopping online is here to stay forever,” he said. “People love the convenience of going to their computer or their iPhone and just ordering stuff,” he said.

Getting product to customers by any means possible is a lesson Teri-Lynn Friesen, co-owner of FĂȘte Ice Cream & Coffee, learned quickly.

The ice cream shop’s storefront opened only a matter of weeks before the pandemic hit, so Friesen and her staff had to reorient from in-person to online ordering.

“We were able to quickly adapt our online ordering system to be ready for the public,” said Friesen. “We didn’t realize that would be such an asset, but it was.”

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“That was really great because we could do curbside pickup, we could do contactless, all of these new terms that we had never even heard of.”

Friesen credits her and her partner’s background in theatre for some of their success, taking an adaptive “the show must go on” approach to their business.

Adaptability is crucial to success during an economic upheaval like the COVID-19 pandemic, says Warren, adding that a business that has managed to thrive amid the pandemic is well poised to survive for years to come.

“If you managed to get through this, they’re going to continue when all this is done,” he said.

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