During the stay-at-home order, many boutique owners turned to their phones to make sales virtually

Social media has always been an important sales tool for local boutiques. But during the COVID-19 outbreak, it became a lifeline.

From showing off new merchandise to facilitating sales and sharing encouraging messages of hope, platforms like Facebook and Instagram helped Baton Rouge stores do it all.

Businesses used technology to turn their stores into virtual experiences, complete with online shopping and try-ons, plus socially distant versions of their signature sales events.

“I think the retail industry has been in a period of transition even before the advent of COVID-19,” says NK Boutique assistant general manager Sydney Bankston. “There has been a real shift toward fast fashion and the online shopping arena. The outbreak of coronavirus has only pushed us and other retail stores to adapt to those changes faster than we ever anticipated.”

From bags to boxes: NK Boutique staff members Emily Moore and Anna Katherine Gladden set aside the store’s paper shopping bags, instead packaging customer purchases in boxes to be mailed and shipped. Instagram photos also became more important than ever as many stores temporarily shut down physical operations.

Nonessential retail businesses were allowed to stay open during this spring’s stay-at-home order, so long as no more than 10 people were in the store at once. But many shut down physical operations, anyway, out of concern for safety.

NK Boutique hosted a virtual tent sale, posting its products on its Instagram stories. Customers responded with their information to make purchases, which were then shipped or made available for pick-up.

Posh Boutique typically holds a grab-bag sale twice a year, when customers can take home as much as they can stuff into one bag for a set price. But due to the coronavirus, the most recent grab-bag sale looked a little different.

To make the sale virtual, customers purchased a grab bag with selections made by boutique owner Kait Harrison. Despite that big change, more than 200 bags were shipped to customers or available for curbside pick-up.

Responses to both Posh Boutique’s and NK Boutique’s virtual sales were overwhelmingly positive, according to Harrison and Bankston.

“I am always reluctant to change the format of an event that has been profitable in the past; however, the virtual tent sale exceeded my expectations, and then some,” Bankston says. She expects NK to host more virtual tent sales in the future.

Other boutiques, such as Wanderlust by Abby, turned to personal shopping appointments to keep business going. Customers called, texted, emailed or DMed to schedule an appointment with the store, then they would meet one worker in the boutique for in-person shopping.

“Keeping the communication open and letting people know we’re still here is everything,” says Wanderlust owner Abby Bullock.

Each of the boutiques we talked to expressed a common sentiment: gratitude for customers’ continued support during a difficult time.

“I want them to know how truly thankful I am for their love and support,” Harrison says. “Not only in my business, but their words of encouragement in my daily life helps make the world’s craziness a little bit easier.”

This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.