If the COVID-19 pandemic and the closures across the country have taught us anything in the retail world, it is the need to be able to rapidly adjust to a changing market. This crisis won’t last forever, so it’s important to be ready to resume business when it ends. Below are 8 retail marketing strategies that will help your store grow during normal times, but also be ready to proactively adjust to any new change that might come up.

Create a Virtual Tour

A virtual tour is a 360 degree image of your store. Your customers can virtually walk through and view your products almost as if they are in your store.

Virtual tours are very popular with consumers. This virtual tour has been viewed over 300 times on the business’ website and over 500 times on the Google My Business listing.

Speaking of Google My Business, a virtual tour is part of a fully optimized GMB listing – something I will get into more detail later.

Take as much advantage of your virtual tour as possible. Here are a few recommendations:

Upload it to Google Street View

When you have a certified photographer create your virtual tour, they can upload it to Google Street View. This is how you get it attached to your Google My Business Listing.

Upload it to your website

A virtual tour on your website is a great way to keep your customers on your site longer. By staying on your site longer, they are more likely to consider you as an option for their purchase.

Share it on Social Media

Give your social media followers a fun way to browse your store. It also has the added benefit of being highly shareable.

Offer Online Chat

Online chat is an important part of any retail marketing strategy; it is a great way to be able to talk to your customers. One of the key things I talk about is engaging with your customers when, where, and how they want to engage. If they are on your website, don’t make them call you or fill out a form. Give them the opportunity to chat with you. Facebook Messenger is another great example of ways to engage with your customers where, when, and how they want.  

There are several free online chat servicesDrift is the first one that comes to mind. At Focused Engagement, we recommend and support a chat service by Sharpspring. They are a complete automation system – something I’ll discuss more in a minute.  

If you are going to offer chat service, I can’t stress enough to have it open at all times. It’s my experience that most people wanting to chat will only stay online with you for about 30 seconds to a minute before they move on (and even that is stretching it a bit). If you want to take your chat to the next level, you can offer chatbots. These bots respond to chats automatically. They are very effective, especially for after hours chats and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). I’m not aware of any free chatbots, but several are fairly inexpensive to start. Sharpspring has it built into their chat. For Facebook Messenger, you can use Manychat.

Since you only need the internet to answer chat requests, you can still easily communicate with your customers even if you need to send your employees home or have to close your physical store.

Use a VoIP Phone System

VoIP stands for Voice over IP. It’s basically an Internet telephone system. I recommend them for several reasons:

  1. Since there is usually no equipment to purchase other than the phone, they are typically less expensive than a standard phone system. Plus, since all you need is the internet for the phone to work, you can easily move your office number to your home if need be. 
  2. They have auto attendants built in so you can give the caller the option to choose who they want to talk to.
  3. Most have simple rollover features, meaning if someone doesn’t answer the phone, it can roll over to the next phone until it’s answered. 
  4. Most have a “soft phone”. A soft phone (or software phone) is an app that you can put on your mobile phone so you can make and receive calls from your office even if you are not at your office. 

A VoIP will give you a great phone system for when times are good as well as options to rapidly adjust to any emergency that comes up. If you must close the physical store, simply hook up the phone at your home and you are back in business!

When looking at VoIP phone systems, make sure you get one that also offers business class SMS texting and connects into marketing automation systems like Sharpspring or Hubspot. I recommend a company called Simplii because they check off all the above recommendations. Additionally, the SMS capability is what makes it part of my retail marketing strategy.

Use Call Tracking Numbers

Using a different call tracking number for every marketing campaign you have will allow you to have a better idea of what is working and what is not. In times of crisis where marketing dollars count even more than in normal times, you can make rapid adjustments.

I use Callrail for call tracking numbers. I like this service because not only can I track where my phone calls come from, I can record the phone calls and evaluate why the customer is calling. This helps me evaluate if the message I am trying to deliver is the same message that my customers are receiving.  

For example, I reviewed the Callrail report for one of my clients during the period of March 15-April 15. 

The image above shows part of a Callrail report. As you can see, this company got a lot of calls during this 30 day period. I looked up last year’s call volume, and this year is higher than last year despite the pandemic. However, I did notice a large drop in the duration of the phone call. You can see 4 of the 6 calls I show in the image were under a minute. Since we record these calls, I was able to listen to them (the blue arrow on the far side of the image is the play button). Every one of these calls was someone asking if the store was open. This told me that we are not doing enough to get the message out that the business is open, so I was able to adjust the message. By the way, the red arrow points to a little green dot next to the redacted name. This tells you quickly if this was the first time that person called the number.  That’s effective to know if you are attracting new callers, or simply getting repeat callers. 

Another helpful thing about listening to phone calls is to understand how effective your sales team is. Selling on the phone – either selling product during a shutdown situation or selling the value of coming into the store – is not the same as selling in person. By reviewing the performance of your sales team on the phone, you can make adjustments where needed to make them more effective.

Optimize your Google My Business Listing

Every phone call, every request for directions, and every website visit counts in a crisis. Having a fully optimized Google My Business listing helps you reach as many people as possible and greatly increases the likelihood that they will take some sort of action with your business. Create a virtual tour. Add images of the inside, outside and your team members. Add product posts and images. Make sure you are in the correct categories. Check your listing often, as Google will make recommendations for improvement from time to time.

Offer E-commerce

Ecommerce has always been a tough call for local retailers. Let’s face it, without the national reach of an online retailer, the chances of you selling anything online is not great. It almost seems like a waste of money. However, in a crisis, the ability to sell online and deliver the product without your customer having to leave their house can make the difference between staying open and permanently closing your doors. During normal times, you can market e-commerce through several avenues including Facebook, Google Ads, Google Shopping and organic reach. Reach out to your suppliers and manufacturers and find out which ones of them do drop shipping. This can add to your eCommerce store without the cost of stocking the items.

Get Social

A strong social media presence is crucial for a retail marketing strategy. You should decide what social media outlets you want to use based on your target market, but I would suggest Facebook at a minimum. The key to a social media campaign is consistency and you need to consistently post at least 5 times a week. Stagger when you post your content so you can see what time gets the most views. It’s also important what you post; you should post information about products, as well as company culture posts. If you are having a training session about something, take pictures and post about it. Did your company get a local award? Post about it. Did an employee do something outstanding? Post about it. You can also post 5 star reviews you have received from a customer.  

Include marketing automation

Marketing automation pulls together a lot of the suggestions on this list. It’s the center of your retail marketing strategy. I mentioned Sharpspring earlier because it is the automation platform I recommend. You can use it to schedule your social media posts so you don’t have to think about it every day. Just spend an hour or two a week to pre-schedule your posts and you’re done. You can also use Sharpspring to monitor your online chats. 

Sharpsring is also where you keep information on all your leads and hopefully customers. You should use this information to send out monthly newsletters (yes, they still work). In an emergency, you can send out emails about new business hours, steps you are taking to ensure public safety, or any other information you want you contacts to receive. You can also integrate marketing automation with your VOIP phone system to send out texts to your contacts.


After reading this post, I hope that you have picked up on some helpful tips that will allow you to more effectively market your retail business. Marketing is an absolutely essential part of any business these days and will only get more important in the future. If you take these steps and apply these tips, regardless of the current pandemic, you should see results in one way or another.