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COVID19: Retailers pushed to build online stores in time for Black Friday

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Retailers are turning to online sales to make the most of the few opportunities left, unable to lure consumers to brick and mortar shops, especially after the coronavirus has almost cancelled Christmas this year.

But come this (Black) Friday, selling online will – for anything other than essentials – be the only game in town, especially in Limassol and Paphos, where many shops may have shut down due to the lockdown restrictions.

Marios Antoniou, the head of Cyprus Retailers Association, told the Financial Mirror that ‘Lockdown 2’ meant a “seismic shift” towards online shopping for Black Friday and possibly Christmas too.

“Shoppers and retailers alike are well aware that Black Friday is completely different this year,” said Antoniou.

“Consumers in Limassol and Paphos cannot go to their local town centre or shopping mall. Those in other districts will not enjoy the same pleasant experience they had last year as there are restrictions in the number of people allowed in stores.”

Antoniou said that retailers in Limassol and Paphos are trying to make the best out of online sales, struggling amid the COVID-19 restrictions to bring in the much-needed business to generate liquidity and keep them afloat.

He said that this year retailers are placing their money on online offers, which consumers can enjoy in the safety of their home. “For us, Black Friday is a tough test on whether businesses can hop on to the digital highway.”

Antoniou noted that businesses have upgraded their online platforms, making them more consumer-friendly, while others have invested heavily in creating new online stores.

“We focused on promoting e-shopping, especially when it comes to electronic devices and technology products because one can easily place an order through the internet.

“There is a growing trend among younger people who have lived or studied abroad where online shopping is more common”.

 

E-purchase turnover limited

According to Antoniou, although the share of e-commerce compared to in-store sales has been growing in recent years, the turnover of e-purchases is still limited, as much needs to be done to bring businesses up to speed with the rest of the European Union.

He said, however, that due to the pandemic, the food sector of e-shopping has risen from 3% to 4% of online sales 7% to 8%.

“The pandemic caught us off guard, as not much was done by businesses to step up their online stores” he said.

Antoniou said that clothing businesses will have the hardest time, as the vast majority do not have online platforms in place and Cypriot consumers are not accustomed to buying shoes and clothes online.

The head of the retailers’ association was also worried if businesses’ would be able to handle a large number of orders as consumers would also want the goods to be delivered to their door.

“There is always the option for a customer to pick up the purchases, but that would defeat the purpose of ordering online. However, since the coronavirus outbreak, a number of businesses have partnered with delivery companies, setting up the platform for a new network,” said Antoniou.

Stephanis, one of the biggest electronic retailers, with seven shops throughout Cyprus and a staff of 230, has deployed its first online Black Friday campaign, and is eager to see how the venture will pay off.

“The coronavirus outbreak has pushed us to speed up our digital transformation, setting up an online e-store, even though this had been in our plans for 2020,” said Stephanie Stephani, head of the company’s marketing department.

She said that they had deployed a new webpage earlier this year which offered the option to set up an online store as well.

Will in-store sales become a thing of the past?

Stephani explained that with their biggest store in Limassol (Naafi area) having to shut down because of the lockdown, the chain will be losing out on a big part of their business, as people will not be able to walk into the store.

“This was a push for us to move online, but nevertheless moving online was a one-way road, especially for businesses selling electric and electronic devices,” she said.

Stephani said that since their new webpage went live in summer, home orders for TVs to games, and gadgets to white goods have tripled, and the company is hoping to see its e-commerce venture really take off with the Black Friday campaign.

 

Social media commercials

Stephanis has invested in a number of commercials with known Cypriot sitcom actors George Zenios and Christina Pavlidou, which are broadcast on social media.

The aim was to recreate the Black Friday experience online, giving the first customers to put in their order to benefit from a number of deals.

Electroline, another major retail chain, has also moved part of its Black Friday campaign online, stating that it has grasped the sign of the times.

Marketing Manager Gabriel Savva told the Financial Mirror that, just like all retailers, they were also pushed by the coronavirus outbreak to make the leap into the digital age.

“We were already on our way to digitalising our business when the first coronavirus wave struck, but COVID-19 essentially pushed retailers across Cyprus to go digital overnight,” said Savva.

Although Electroline had experimented by putting part of the Black Friday campaign online last year, the first lockdown after March pushed them to upgrade their platforms to include all products available at physical stores.

“Since then, we invested in building a support group for our online network, while coming to an agreement with a delivery company,” said the marketing manager.

Electroline’s upgraded online sales platform went live just a few weeks ago, with the company prolonging Black Friday sales to cover the whole week from November 23 to 29.

“We are particularly encouraged from the online traffic. Building a platform and investing in a delivery partnership entails its own risks especially in a market like Cyprus where distances are small, and where there is no tradition of online shopping,” said Savva.

However, he noted, “a trend is building up, which could deflate when the coronavirus crisis is over, as more and more people have become familiar with shopping online”.

“E-shopping is here to stay, and we have to get onboard” he concluded.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Protection Service has also urged people to be wary of offers they perceive as deals, and to do their homework before deciding to buy a product whether at a physical store or online.

The service has issued a seven-point to-do list during Black Friday.