P.E.I. businesses adapted to COVID-19, some changes here to stay
Door-to-door delivery, online options likely to continue following pandemic
Some P.E.I. retailers who shifted to offering services differently when many storefronts were shut down due to fears of COVID-19 say they'll keep their new business models for now.
Now, as P.E.I. heads toward Phase 2 of lifting restrictions put in place due to the virus, businesses are considering keeping things such as door-to-door delivery as part of their business model even when pandemic measures are eased.
"We had a lot of happy customers that liked it," says Reggie Jameson, the general manager of MR Seafood. He said the business was one of many that started to offer home deliveries.
Jameson said when things get back to normal — whatever that looks like — he plans to continue to offer the service.
"We're used to delivering to restaurants anyway, so delivering to homes is no problem," he said.
Jameson said making the decision to start deliveries allowed him to keep some of his employees who delivered to restaurants. Customer feedback has been positive and Jameson said he wouldn't want to take delivery options away.
"We have a lot of people saying how great it is, how convenient it is."
We have noticed a big surge in Islanders looking to support local.— Julia Campbell
If the demand is there when restrictions are eased, he said he would "love" to hire more drivers..
"The more local fresh product that we can push, us being a seafood business, and hiring more Islanders, that would be number one," he said.
Jameson said he thinks the business will be able to continue to turn a profit through door-to-door sales — especially in the greater Charlottetown area.
At Lone Oak Brewing in Borden-Carleton no one has been able to have a beer in the taproom since March, so the business also added delivery.
"Dillon, who has been doing most of the deliveries, has put 13,000 kilometres on the van at this point," said co-owner Jared Murphy.
"We've done over 1,000 deliveries since March 21."
Murphy said Lone Oak invested money into setting up an online store so people could purchase beer and have it delivered to their door. Currently Island breweries are able to continue to deliver beer to homes only until Aug 31. The P.E.I. Craft Beer Alliance sent a letter to the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission asking for delivery to become permanent.
Lone Oak also started to live stream trivia and musical performances. Murphy said when the pandemic starts to "fade," living streaming will continue.
"We'll definitely continue," he said. "It's a great way for us to stay connected with our consumers."
"A lot of our breweries are located in rural communities on the Island. So then you get into if you don't have a designated driver maybe you are staying in for the night but you still want some entertainment, you still want to be connected to Lone Oak. Well, here is an opportunity."
During COVID-19, other businesses have also increased their social media presence.
Julia Campbell who owns Jems Boutique, a clothing store in Charlottetown, said the business always made a strong effort on social media, but the pandemic provided an opportunity to go further.
"We've started a new website and revamped our entire digital marketing platform," Campbell said.
The business also has been doing live streams to showcase the arrival of new clothing.
"We definitely ramped it up since not having anybody allowed to be in our physical shop, and we will definitely keep it going. We have noticed a big surge in Islanders looking to support local," she said, adding she is grateful and wants to reach as many people as possible.
She said having potential customers able to see what clothes look like on someone's body before buying allows them to better visualize those outfits on themselves.
Jim Cormier with the Retail Council of Canada says the country has been slow compared to others when it comes to bringing services online.
"We've seen very slow growth, but it has been steady growth. I'm assuming that this pandemic has moved more people to the online categories," he said.
Sometimes it takes years to shift to an online model, he said.
"The COVID pandemic forced a lot of these decisions to be made and be put into action in a matter of weeks," he said. "They now worked out the kinks and you are seeing some businesses doing a lot of online business they never did before."
Cormier said he feels people of all ages have an increased "comfort level" now when it comes to shopping online because many had to do it during the pandemic.
"I think you'll see more of that going forward."
However, he suggests people support a variety of retailers and be understanding because some people may not have the internet infrastructure to offer online services.
Some businesses also partnered with others. MR Seafood stocked up on locally made milk and cheese and started to offer the product along with fresh seafood.
"We even have eggs in there just to, you know, make that one stop shop, especially for essentials," Jameson said.
The store also put up a Plexiglas safety barrier. Jameson said he plans to keep that even after COVID-19 runs its course.
"I think the public is used to seeing it and I think they will appreciate that," he said.