Contactless trade a challenge

Reaching out to customers: Choco Loco delivering contactless goodies to a happy customer.

The move to Alert Level 3 has seen many of the Bay’s retail outlets reopen, but it’s far from business as usual, with limited hours and contactless trading the order of the day. Nevertheless, in addition to their caffeine pick-me-up, shoppers can now bag plenty of other local goodies.
After being partially grounded for five weeks, Choco Loco’s hand-made chocolates are literally flying out the window.
“We had to think really carefully about how to safely open and deliver to people,” says co-owner Kath Craw. “We even thought of things like catapults as a way of serving up.”
Then along came a winning design from cabinet maker Aly Turner. “We played around with the idea of a pizza paddle,” says Kath. “Since we had a long counter out the back I thought we could swivel it out, but due to lock down I couldn’t get any parts; the only things I could put my hands on were three old caster wheels, a bolt and a bit of bent ply. It’s completely ecologically sound and sustainable; it’s even oiled with cooking oil.
“A thing of beauty,” laughs co-owner Gay Hamilton. “It swings around with the payment machine on it – you’ve got to keep your distance in case somebody gets swiped. We put things in a bag and they just need to waft their card over the machine, pick up their bag and drive.”
Just across the road, Wildflower ethnic clothing store and its children’s supplies shop, Grasshopper, are both open weekdays for click and collect. Owner Lori Godden explained that customers can shop online, click “pickup” for shipping options, then collect their parcel from outside Wildflower’s front door. Meanwhile staff are working inside, as they stocktake and change the clothing range from summer to winter-wear in preparation for reopening under Level 2.
“The websites are quite handy with lockdown,” said Lori. “I think it might be the new norm for a while. We have done heaps of orders, a huge surge of internet orders for Wildflower.”
Lori has spent the lockdown period contemplating ways to make her business better, thinking how she might improve her business model and become more essential.
“The local support is great. Grasshopper is such a boutique, specialty shop to have in such a small town, and it’s the locals who keep it going. Without the local support we wouldn’t exist.”
Mariposa clothing and Soul footwear owner Tracey Brignole has operated her stores online for 10 years. Currently they have a 30 per cent storewide discount. “It’s a pretty desperate attempt to get cashflow going,” says Tracey, adding that while online sales are up, it’s not enough to make up for the high street stores being closed, which is why she has extended the discount until the end of Level 3.
“As there was no shipping during Level 4, we’re trying to catch up now and do all we can to hold firm,” explained Tracey. Her team have found it tricky working in the warehouse, organising stock while maintaining physical distance, but they are managing. The click-and-collect service allows locals to pick up parcels from outside the Junction Street warehouse.
During the last two weeks of March, sales were down by 80 per cent across the Nelson and Takaka stores – six in total – with Dragonfly, Soul and Mariposa in Takaka and Nelson. A total of 18 staff work for the company. “April is usually busy; it’s our Nelson store’s biggest month of the year for Soul,” says Tracey. “Now it’s down to nothing, zero trade.”
She wonders if things will be any better under Level 2. “Will people come out or not? The reality is we may have to downsize. Winter is challenging at the best of times. Or, we may have to open one day a week less. It’s going to be a juggle to get through.”
Currently Tracey has one staff member per store working to change seasonal stock, in readiness for opening again under Alert Level 2. “It’s really hard to make a plan when there are so many unknowns,” she says. But she is adamant they are staying optimistic and will find a way through.
Next door to Soul, Takaka’s newest food outlet O’Sha, is offering a comprehensive a Thai menu via its website.
Customers who phone in their orders will be informed approximately how long their order is going to take. They will then receive a text message when the order is ready for pick up – from a table at the shop front. Online instructions clearly explain the protocol around safe distancing and payment.
At the other end of the street, The Curry Leaf’s owner Andrew Bulters says that things initially went well under Level 3. “The first three days were great. It was busier than I thought it would be, until the bad weather, then that nailed it.”
The business received the Government’s wage subsidy which helps, but he says he may close an hour earlier over the next week or so, as they have found things slow down significantly after 7pm.
Out of town, Tarn and David Hix who took over the Pohara Store on 1 November last year, have found things pretty hard going since missing out on their “bonanza” Easter weekend. “It’s been up and down… We are grateful we have been able to stay open, really,” says David.
Under current restrictions, they can have up to four people in the shop at a time, which David says is working “quite well”.
Being new to the business means they are still bringing in new stock and adjusting prices in line with other convenience stores. Dave says the feedback from locals has been very supportive, with people appreciating the variety in store, including fresh vegetables sourced from Raeward and fresh fish. “We’d like to say a big thank you to our customers.”
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Article: Ronnie Short and Anita Peters
Photo: Anita Peters