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A digital fashion reseller that has reached unicorn status, a 195-year-old shoe company, and a women’s clothing brand with 100 stores and a faith-based message have straightforward advice for businesses coping with coronavirus-related shutdowns and uncertainties: Keep on communicating with your customers, find new ways to deliver virtual experiences, and stay true to your brand.

Those are the principles resale brand Poshmark, footwear giant Clarks and clothing retailer Altar’d State are using to respond to what executives called an unprecedented public health and economic crisis.

The three brands participated in a webinar hosted by digital marketing conference firm CommerceNext.

Before the three brand executives spoke, Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, and Scott Silverman, co-founder of CommerceNext presented survey data showing the depth of the challenges retailers and all small businesses, are facing.

Consumers are more pessimistic about the economic future of the nation and their own economic future than they were at the start of the financial crisis in 2008, and close to half of the digital brands surveyed by CommerceNext said their sales were either slightly behind or significantly behind plan as of mid-March.

On a positive note, Forrester found that 41% of consumers in mid-March said they want to help local businesses survive the crisis, and plan to do that by buying from them.

Here are the insights shared by the Clarks, Poshmark and Altar’d State executives:

Keeping ‘open lines of communication’

Chris Hardisty, senior vice president of e-commerce, Clarks

Clarks, which has over 1,000 stores worldwide as well as e-commerce sales, closed all of its U.S. stores in response to the outbreak, and is focusing on staying in touch with customers.

“We have tried to keep a regular communication with customers as they have reached out with questions, from, ‘How should I handle a return?’ to questions about how they are keeping stores and products safe from the virus,” Hardisty sad.

“Open lines of communication —with your employees, with your customers, and honestly even with your industry peers,” will be key to moving forward, he said. “Anything we can do to help each other is a help to the world and to our own economy.”

Anything we can do to help each other is a help to the world and to our own economy.

Chris Hardisty, senior vice president of e-commerce, Clarks

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Replacing in-person events with virtual ones

Barkha Saxena, chief data officer, Poshmark

Poshmark, the online marketplace that connects sellers with buyers, has been focusing on how it can recreate the live Poshmark events that used to draw hundreds of buyers and sellers during a time when in-person gatherings have all been cancelled, Saxena said.

“Poshmark has always been a very social company and we used to do a lot of events to get the community together,” Saxena said. Now the company is organizing virtual events.

Not all of the events will be commerce-related, she said. Instead the company is planning events that will help its community of buyers and sellers engage and have fun together.

Poshmark now faces a double challenge, Saxena said. It wants to help its sellers continue to sell, because Poshmark is an important income source for them, while also making sure buyers feel safe about the products they are receiving.

Consumers don’t want to constantly be reminded of the crisis

Angela Triano, director of customer relations management, Altar’d State

Altar’d State is a women’s clothing and home goods brand with 100 stores in 34 states, and an e-commerce site. The company promotes itself as a Christian retail brand, with core messages of Christianity, people and charitable giving.

Altar’d State, Triano said, is focusing communications with its customers on comforting messages. “We know that she’s working from home. We know she still needs inspiration. We want to support that and always listen to her,” Triano said.

The customer is “literally talking back to us.” With its stores all closed, the brand has seen its virtual prayer requests have spiked, showing customers want that kind of inspiration now.

But, Triano said, Altar’d State is mindful that customers don’t want to be reminded of the crisis constantly. “We realize she’s turning to us for ideation and trends and almost an escape from the virus,” she said. “Sometimes we can get too literal in communicating too much about what’s going on in our economy.”

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

  • Check out the U.S. Chamber's Small Business Loan Guide.
  • To help you manage your business through the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a toolkit for businesses and a customizable flyer for businesses to communicate their coronavirus efforts to customers.
  • For more information pertaining to your specific location, you can find your local Chamber of Commerce here.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has created a full list of programs providing financial assistance to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. You can find that here.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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