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Whitehorse businesses move to phone and online sales amid COVID-19 precautions

Many small businesses in Whitehorse are locking their front doors and reducing their hours, but that doesn't mean they're shutting up shop. 

Businesses are closing their shops, moving to contactless sales

Jeremy Parkin from Triniti Technology doing a round of deliveries. Triniti is doing more online and phone orders but it's retail store remains open for now. (Submitted by Triniti Technology)

Many small businesses in Whitehorse are laying off staff, reducing hours and locking their front doors, but that doesn't mean they're shutting up shop completely. 

Instead, they are moving to contactless sales by delivering products to customers without any direct person-to-person interaction. 

Adapting on the fly

The Coast Mountain Sports store is closed to the public but staff are using various technologies to connect to customers.

Mary-Jane Warshawski, co-owner, said because of their franchise agreement, they aren't able to offer online sales directly through its website. Instead, they're answering questions, recommending products and sending pictures by phone and through social media. 

Warshawski said it's a new process, and they're learning as they go. 

"We're trying to figure out how to make this work as smoothly as we can for customers."

Many businesses, including Coast Mountain Sports, remain open for business, just not in the usual way. (CBC)

Delivery, curbside pick-up

Many businesses, including Coast Mountain Sports, have started offering curbside pick-up, whereby customers order and pay by phone and receive the item without entering the premise. 

The Feed Store started doing that last week, after it closed its store to the public. Manager Chantal Triggs said if returning customers can't remember what they normally buy, staff can look up their order history in their computer system.

She said customers don't need to buy more than they normally would. 

"We're not running out of stock, so we don't necessarily need [customers] to be stockpiling the dog food and stuff."

Many restaurants are also offering delivery and pick-up services — they have to, if they want to continuing operating. The Yukon government told restaurants they had to close their dine-in areas as of Mar. 26.  

Vienna Wagg, co-owner of the Deli, said they have lost about 50 per cent of their regular business since people started working from home, but said customers are adapting to new processes.

"That curbside assistance [pick-up] has been a really good one. We walk the stuff out if they don't want to come in."

The Deli is open for pick up and delivery. (Karen McColl/CBC)

For some businesses, taking orders by phone can be challenging, especially if customers aren't familiar with the product.

To encourage new customers while their shop is off-limits to the public, Larra Daley of Cultured Fine Cheese is offering a "surprise assortment." Staff will ask the customer a few questions about their typical cheese preferences by phone and put together a variety pack based on a price limit. 

'We've been doing a lot of that, where people just say 'Yeah, free rein ... put together something.'" 

Daley said staff will either walk the order to customers waiting outside Horwood's Mall or put it on a table outside the shop for them to pick up. 

Order online

Triniti Technology is better prepared than most to deal with the shift to phone and online sales because it already had most of its inventory on its website. The company does IT support to businesses in Yukon and northern B.C. — something that's keeping it busy at the moment with the massive shift to people working from home —  but it also has a retail cell phone and electronics store in Whitehorse. 

Johnny Mak, vice president, said there's been a big uptick in online sales. 

"I'm seeing almost 20 times growth in online traffic compared to usual," he said. 

Triniti's retail store was still open as of Mar. 28 but the company also has pick-up and delivery options.  

Businesses buoyed by community support

There's no way around the fact that businesses everywhere are struggling. But one thing they said is buoying their spirits is the encouragement from the community.  

A cheese platter from Cultured Fine Cheese. (Submitted by Cultured Fine Cheese)

Vienna Wagg said she's floored by the offers the Deli has received, everything from free help to free advertising.  

"We have a phenomenal clientele. We still have people supporting us as they can ... and we greatly appreciate them for that," she said. 

Larra Daley at the cheese shop is also feeling the love. 

"People are being so kind. That's one thing I'm seeing coming out of this." 

And an emotional Mary-Jane Warshawski said the most important thing is the health of her staff. She insists the lay-offs at her store will be temporary.

"We're going to get through this by taking care of each other."

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