By Alan Markoff
Retail shops on Grand Cayman reopened for walk-in traffic today, Monday, 1 June, but for the previous three weeks, merchandise was only available for sale through curbside pick-up and/or delivery, as a result of the government’s COVID-19 shelter-in-place regulations.
Although some retail businesses can easily sell their merchandise without people touching the product beforehand, shops selling fashions had more difficulty with these regulations due to customers’ expectations of trying on merchandise before buying.
“It’s the new era of online shopping,” says Nicola de Lima of Cayman Fashion Group. “It’s like shopping on Amazon; you can look, but you can’t try on, so you really have to know your size.” De Lima, like other retailers on Grand Cayman, turned to technology to give customers a better shopping experience. Starting 11 May, Cayman Fashion Group continually posted photos and videos on its Facebook page of products from its four shops in Camana Bay — NKY, NKY Collections, POLO by NKY and SOLES Shoe Salon. Many of the products were newly arriving to meet the unique demand created by the COVID-19 exigencies.
Cayman Fashion Group also used the WhatsApp messaging/communications platform as a way of connecting with customers.
One thing de Lima realised very early into the pandemic was that a better option for face masks was needed for the fashion conscious. In advance of opening for delivery and curbside pick-up, de Lima ordered cloth Nicole Miller and Debbie Katz designer face masks.
“They’re reusable, reversible, washable, fashionable and affordable [starting] at only CI$12 per mask,” she says.
In addition to the face masks, de Lima said several comfort fashions have been popular, including Birkenstock sandals, Havaianas flip-flops and other comfort footwear.
“SOLES has been the busiest shop,” she says, adding that casual T-shirts and polo shirts were very popular with men.
Ian and Catherine Dawson-James, owners of the shops Sand Angels, Activ Angels, Little Angels, Riviera and Forever Summer in Camana Bay, also relied heavily on Facebook to post photos and videos of merchandise.
“We also used FaceTime for mini fashion shows,” says Mr. Dawson-James.
With exercise being one of the few liberties allowed away from home during the shelter-in-place period, activewear has been their best-selling merchandise line.
Although business is way below normal, Dawson-James says he has still been overwhelmed by the loyalty of his customers.
“I really can’t impress enough how amazing they’ve been,” he says, noting that customers were calling saying they wanted to support the shops by making purchases.
With shops opening up to walk-in traffic, Dawson-James thinks business will pick up. “I think people are in need of some retail therapy,” he says.
Island Jewellers and De Sunglass Man, two Camana Bay businesses, made a significant shift in their business model. First, they used WhatsApp video to give customers a personal shopping experience to show their merchandise. Then the Shop Cayman magazine that serves to list the shops’ brands, shifted to an online store called “Shop At Home Cayman.”
Marketing Manager Suzi Culbert said the photos and prices of hundreds of jewellery, watches and sunglass items were added to the online store in just a couple of weeks. “When the stores were first allowed to open for delivery we hadn’t considered the amount of birthdays, anniversaries and love stories that had happened during the six weeks of lockdown. We were shopping with clients over video chat, but nothing beats browsing beautiful products at your leisure and having them delivered to your door or to the door of your loved one.”
Island Jewellers and De Sunglass Man are both duty-free shops, but communicating duty-free discounts online can be complicated. Duty-free pricing is only available in Cayman and a website is global and discounts vary by brand, so the prices listed reflect the U.S retail price, but the team apply the duty-free discount before the online invoice is sent for payment.
“We’ve always been proud of our transparency in pricing and the website is no different. Once the order is placed we call the customer and communicate the brands’ maximum discount and apply it to the purchase before invoicing for payment,” Culbert says, adding that discounts can be anywhere from 10 to 30 percent off the U.S retail price.
Sunglasses are such a personal item and many people find it hard to buy them without trying them on, but Culbert says there has been a big demand for sunglasses designed for sports. They have since added filters to their sunglasses page to allow people to shop by their preferred sport.
“Sunglasses for cycling require a low-profile frame to be able to fit under a helmet and running glasses should be lightweight and fit snugly. These are things that you might not consider before immersing yourself in a new hobby,” she says, noting that those items have been in the highest demand.
Although Island Jewellers and De Sunglass Man are now also open for walk-in customers, Culbert says the online shopping portal will remain.
“We don’t see it as temporary,” she says. “Cayman is unique in that it had very little in the way of online shopping, but this pandemic has changed that. People will always want to come into our stores and see these beautiful things in person and try them on, but it is a priceless tool for us to allow customers this digital window to our stores and have them browse in their own time. With this current situation, we also see it as a way to help customers limit their time in our stores by “window shopping” before their visit. We would love to keep customers’ visits to us below that important timeframe of 15 minutes and now Shop at Home Cayman can help with that and play its part in keeping us all safer.”
About the author
Alan Markoff has worked with Dart as the editor for Camana Bay Times for three years and has been writing professionally since 1997. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Alan graduated from the State University of New York at Albany with a degree in English, and first moved to the Cayman Islands in 1982. He has 16 years of experience in the real estate industry and previously worked as a journalist for Cayman Compass before joining Dart to relaunch the Camana Bay Times monthly newspaper. An avid baseball fan, Alan loves travelling but also schedules trips back home around catching a summer game or two with his home team, Cleveland Indians.