As I reflect on my times during the shelter-at-home mandate, shopping comes to mind. I was stuck in my home, as we all were, with little to do. I found myself contributing hours of my day to online shopping. No guarantee I would buy anything, but shopping was a form of “entertainment” for me during this lifeless and uncertain time. However, as I scrolled through Instagram multiple times a day, I noticed small boutiques in Baton Rouge were advertising more than ever, so I began online shopping on their sites. Why not support our local community’s boutiques?
The reality is that businesses in the local community took an extreme hit during the spring quarantine leading to furloughed employees, strained financials, and the stress of having to shut down. Around April, a report which surveyed 6,000 small businesses reported that nearly 31% of small businesses in Louisiana were at risk of permanently closing due to the pandemic. Some restaurants in the Baton Rouge area, like White Star Market and Rum House, had to permanently close. The stress and financial crisis was worsened by COVID-19 and some closures seemed inevitable. All businesses were fearful and anxious about what was to come for their business.
Boutiques buy season to season, so with the cancellation of weddings, parties, dances, rush, and every event you can think of, what were boutiques going to sell? From April until May, when retail stores were forced to shut down, online shopping ramped up. According to the Baton Rouge Area City Stats Report, 48% of people replaced some in-person shopping with online ordering during the pandemic, and 33% of the EBR online shoppers were shopping for clothing. With people shifting to online shopping during this time, boutiques realized there were additional methods and techniques to gain customers and promote their products amidst the shelter at home.
Boutiques are often family-owned and run. Therefore, they are investing in not only their financial capital but their human capital. A pandemic is not ideal for a boutique. Innovative thinking has never been so crucial as owners navigate this new shopping landscape. New, modern, and digitized marketing methods, therefore, are significant in the times of COVID-19. Two popular boutiques in the Baton Rouge area, Eros and Head Over Heels, each took their own ways and incorporated fresh techniques to keep their boutiques afloat. Their techniques required methodical and fascinating approaches.
Located in Towne Center, Eros boutique has served as a go-to shopping destination for residents. The boutique's strategically-curated collection of high-end clothes, shoes, handbags, and accessories offers a chic and bold style. With the shelter at home mandate, Eros knew they needed to act fast. According to Andrea, the head of sales manager, they immediately began promoting "shop with us online." Every post had a link to the website as a reminder that people could shop with them at home. They concluded that Instagram drives the website because people will forget about them if they do not promote themselves on Instagram. In the first month, they did "20% off your entire purchase and free shipping." This discount was a huge incentive for people to keep shopping. A problem that arose for Eros was the limitation on shipping vendors, so they had to focus on the casual ones that could ship and keep the goods coming. Since people could not leave their homes, they wanted to purchase comfortable, machine washable, and super casual loungewear. After all these approaches, they took another step to make it even easier for the customer by offering local delivery, curbside pickup, and free shipping. Eros has put their heart and soul into tackling this challenge by continuously pushing and promoting their store.
Another Baton Rouge boutique, Head Over Heels, offers a destination for customers to shop in a friendly environment. Due to their prevalence online and on social media, switching to a digital-centered business model has been the key to staying afloat during the pandemic. While they could not physically have their doors open for some time, they continued to help customers shop through several resources. According to the social media coordinator Hadley, they shifted their focus towards online sales, offering curbside pickups, local deliveries, and free shipping. Head Over Heels took it a step further by offering virtual try-on sessions for customers who wanted to try clothes. 90% of their sales were generated from their website, while the other 10% was from Instagram and Facebook marketing. A new, creative marketing strategy the store took on was instead of posting their usual three to four pictures a day, they decided to double that number. This type of user-engagement is crucial for their store because it allows them to have a constant presence on social media and stay on people's radars. According to their website analytics, an increase in the average session spent on the website increased. Head Over Heels even increased how they showed support for customers. This incorporated occasionally offering discounts to generate sales, which engaged their customers and kept their sales up amidst the pandemic. Their involvement and incorporation of new techniques led them to capitalize in a time of uncertainty and financial scare.
Even though small businesses have been particularly vulnerable throughout the pandemic, they have done an extraordinary job keeping their businesses going. New approaches and techniques through Instagram have saved them and kept customers interested and buying. The difficulty following ever-changing local guidelines has not stopped the boutiques. Despite the hardships and uncertainty that came for the local business community, specifically boutiques, Baton Rouge needs to keep up its robust environment for small businesses. All businesses can look at Head Over Heels and Eros' adaptation techniques and apply them. The past several months have been extremely challenging, but recognizes the importance of making an online presence. The time has come to defeat these uncertain challenges and put in the extra work and determination to keep one's business up and running and not fall short to the economy and country's circumstances.