Working with Customers as COVID-19 Recedes

The pandemic changed the way people work, shop and interact. As business managers are trying to navigate this “new normal,” they’re finding different ways to connect with post-COVID-19 customers.
Photo Credit: ATA

Author: Jackie Holbrook

At times it feels like the world is living a weird new normal. It’s been more than two years since COVID-19 sent the U.S. economy into a temporary standstill and created an ongoing atmosphere of uncertainty. The pandemic changed a lot of things but not necessarily in the way analysts predicted.

The initial shutdowns scared many small business owners, and rightfully so. As people sheltered in their homes, many brick-and-mortar store owners feared this would be their shop’s end. And in some cases, it was. However, for many retailers, the pandemic just proved to be a reset. The National Retail Federation reports there were twice as many store openings as closings in 2021.

Just because business is doing well, it doesn’t mean things haven’t changed. Many customers changed their lifestyles and shopping habits because of the pandemic. Here are some reminders for connecting with these customers.

Retailers should respect their customers' new shopping habits post-shutdowns. Photo Credit: Straight 6 Archery

Understand and Respect Personal Boundaries

People might not be sanitizing their groceries anymore, but some COVID-19 health habits are here to stay. Millions of people spent months in isolation, and that can have lasting effects, physically and mentally. For some customers, they’re just excited to be out and about. People were lonely. They missed events and gatherings. Now that life is returning to normal, customers might be a little extra chatty and excited for in-person shopping experiences. Be sure to create a welcoming environment for these customers who are looking for connections.

While some customers are excited the restrictions are over, others are still having a hard time adjusting to life after the shutdowns. It’s important to recognize how people are feeling and respect their boundaries. Now, customers might not be as eager for a handshake or high-five. Some might continue to wear masks out of caution or preexisting conditions. Customers might expect a little more space and look for the occasional bottle of hand sanitizer around the shop. Be sure to make these customers feel safe and welcomed.


Embrace New Hunters

When grocery shelves were bare, people began to rethink where their food comes from. When public spaces became unavailable and people were stuck in their homes, outside became one of the few places they could escape. The pandemic created a new group of hunters. And now they’re looking for guidance.

“Probably 40% to 50% of the people that come into the shop are new to the state and archery,” said Tanner Swanby, an archery technician at Straight-6 Archery in Missoula, Montana.

Straight-6 Archery also has a shop in Bozeman, Montana. Both stores are seeing an influx of new customers. A recent study showed Montana has the highest rate of people moving into the state. And people aren’t just flocking to Montana. The pandemic triggered a wave of people across the country moving from urban areas to rural ones. People are rethinking their homes, lifestyles and community. The rise in remote work has only fueled this trend.

Archery shops in less populated communities and states are beginning to see these population booms as new customers enter their shops. Many of these customers are looking for guidance and a new network because this is a new lifestyle. Create connections with these customers through lessons and events.

“Our Bozeman shop has a range and so they offer lessons,” Swanby said. “In Missoula, we’re a smaller shop but when new people come in, we always send them out the door with the basics. If they need help with their form, that’s not a separate service we charge — that’s just part of our commitment to helping customers.”

Explain that your customers' purchases fund conservation and supports your small business. Photo Credit: ATA

Add Value

The pandemic shifted some shopping habits. Some customers became more cautious about their spending. Even if it was for only a short period, many people faced job loss and felt the pain of the economic slowdown. As money became tighter, people began to expect more from their brands.

Customers want value, but this doesn’t always mean monetary value. Customers want the brands that they buy and the shops that they frequent to align with their personal values. Google searches for “ethical brands” grew by 600% in 2020.

If you’re wondering what this means for your company or archery shop, it means telling your story. Let customers know you’re family-owned or have been in the community for decades. Share products you stock that are made locally. Explain major brands’ warranty policies or customer service attitudes. Customers like to know that the money they’re spending is supporting the local economy and aligning with brands that hold the same values.

This is a great opportunity to spread the message of hunters and conservation. Explain that their purchase funds conservation. Tell them about the Wildlife Restoration Act, aka the Pittman-Robertson Act. Explain that this money goes to wildlife agencies to fund conservation projects. For more on how to spread this message, check out “Why ATA Members Must Teach Customers About Ethics and Conservation.”

ATA has a lot of resources to help showcase ethics, conservation and business practices on the Member Dashboard.

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