The end of March means the end of JobKeeper – a lifeline for many businesses. For retailers that have relied on the payments during the most challenging of 12 months, April 2021 will bring a potentially daunting new phase for their businesses.

Indeed, recent forecasts predict that as many as 250,000 Australians could lose their jobs as a result of the scheme ending. Few industries were harder hit by nationwide lockdowns, meaning few industries were as reliant on the payments to retain staff even as their physical doors were closed. It’s important, therefore, for retailers to devise strategies and implement processes that not only help alleviate the end of JobKeeper, but act as the foundation of savvy, sophisticated retail operations for years to come.

Start with the numbers

As simple as it sounds, the most important first step is to understand your business. Compile a holistic picture of your finances; your current revenue, outgoings and overheads, and expected income over the next month, quarter and year. Assess your inventory, it’s total RRP value, what’s in surplus and what’s in demand.

Many retailers activated their ecommerce capabilities when lockdown closed physical stores, so understand too where your customers are engaging with your business, online and off, customer retention rates and acquisition costs. This data can help you develop a deeper understanding of your business and how your customers interact with it, as well as determine whether the end of JobKeeper payments will be relatively stress-free, or whether you need more of a helping hand.

Unify online and offline retail

By now, many retailers have created an ecommerce presence; evidenced by a record-breaking year for online sales in Australia. ECommerce accelerated rapidly in 2020, catalysed by lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. While the same rate of growth is unlikely long-term, nor will we see online sales return to their pre-pandemic levels. Instead, optimum retail today – and well into the future – will be a seamless integration of online and offline retail, known as omnichannel. Consumers now are active online and on their highstreets, so retailers must be too.

An online store that showcases your products is a start, but must be supported by a broader digital strategy that allows you to be more targeted and strategic with how you promote it, when and to who. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software provides a detailed picture of each customer and their spending habits. It allows you to, for example, segment regular customers and send them a loyalty discount code or, if they live in close proximity, notify them if you’re having an in-store only flash sale.

Inventory management software allows you to see what’s in short supply, what’s in-stock and where. For example, it allows you to identify in-demand products to order more of, or excess Summer stock that you might want to discount as Autumn approaches to create a sales spike to offset the end of JobKeeper. Through targeted marketing, you can craft personalised, tailored content and recommendations for different customers, driving them back to your online or bricks-and-mortar stores.

Integration, though, is key. Rather than using multiple, siloed tools, the most effective strategy – conducive to both productivity and omnichannel selling – is an integrated tech stack that streamlines the flow of information and frees more time to focus on providing great customer experience or creating bespoke products. Tools like, for example, Zoho Commerce provide all the functionality retailers need, not only to sell online, but drive traffic in-store. Considering that 90% of global shoppers search online prior to visiting a store and the volume of “Can I/to buy” searches + “near me” has increased sixfold in the last two years, the need for a unified approach is evident.

While digital tools, ecommerce and automation allows retailers to be strategic and streamlined online, it can’t replace the value of human connections and face-to-face retail. So while you’re developing or enhancing your digital strategy, don’t forget that customer-centricity is a skill that drives innovation and loyalty, and has stood the test of time.

It wouldn’t be overly dramatic to say that, as the JobKeeper scheme ends, every sale and customer takes on added significance. And while it’s conclusion might signal a daunting period for retailers, an analysis of your business and it’s performance, a foundation grounded in accessible, affordable retail technology and a devotion to your customers could give your business the boost it deserves not just over the coming weeks, but well into the future.

Vijay Sundaram is chief strategy officer at global technology platform Zoho