This isn’t a story about time travel back before Click & Collect become an online best practice, rather it takes place today, in the Winter of 2021/2022.
A few weeks ago, The Netherlands went into lockdown, again. A Dutch lockdown is like many other Dutch regulations - open to a broad level of interpretation. Flower shops, wine stores, bakeries, pet stores, coffee shops (Cannabis not coffee) as well as actual cafés selling coffee were deemed essential and open. Restaurants are technically closed, but carry out, delivery and “walk-by” to grab a warm Glou Wine to enjoy while sauntering about the city on a sunny afternoon or during an evening walk with friends to enjoy the Winter Light Festival is permitted.
When news hit that retail shops would no longer be open after the 19th of December, a few friends lamented about finishing their shopping and I had to laugh because this is the exact same place, we were in last year. This should not have been a surprise with the cycle of increasing COVID cases, a blatant disregard for mask etiquette, the disappearance of hand sanitizer and the onset of Omicron.
Of course, holiday shopping was not canceled, Click & Collect was once again permitted and most merchants did not require customers to schedule a pick-up time, simply to show up to collect their goods. I also live in a country that takes pride in its efficiency with an amazingly reliable postal service and expedient logistics providers who are here to support the delivery of online purchases. Any business or person who can print a label, pack a box, and drop it at one of many drop points around the country, is open for business.
As for small businesses without a transactional website, necessity is the mother of invention, a phrase my mother repeated often during my childhood.
Having spent nearly five years living in The Netherlands, studying Dutch history, and observing the unimaginable things transported by bike – I’m fairly certain the phrase necessity is the mother of invention was coined to describe centuries of Dutch innovation, especially when it came to the management of
water which frequently flooded their land.
During the past two years of intermittent lockdowns, I’ve watched the Dutch devise creative solutions and roll with the punches. Digitally savvy small businesses added more inventory to their small ecommerce sites, enhanced their Instagram stories with products and prices, supported virtual store tours and offered pick-up and delivery. A local pet shop, Little Dot only keeps a Facebook and Instagram page (@littledot. amsterdam) but provides their mobile number for WhatsApp service. During December, Little Dot, a one-woman business was able to fully service my shopping needs offering dog food recommendations for a foster dog, providing photos of dog beds, and delivering the products to my door within hours of our WhatsApp chat. The payment was by another wonderful Dutch invention called Tikkie, similar to Venmo in the U.S. Here we use Tikkie to split dinner with friends, pay the pet shop, or pay my optician who drops my contacts off by bike.
As for a few old-school businesses known for their specialty products and who rely on foot traffic into their stores, why reinvent the wheel by going all digital when it’s not in their DNA? I’ve seen plenty of old-school retailing tricks during the last two years, but last week, I did a double-take as I was biking by a specialty cooking store and saw twenty-two pieces of A4/Copier paper taped into each of their corner store windows with a simple message CALL & COLLECT 020 6228858.
The double exposure was to be sure anyone biking, walking, driving, or taking the #4 tram would know there was an option during the lockdown.
For more than 52 years, this 2nd generation family-owned business has taken a rather pragmatic approach to marketing, they have two Google listings, one under their legal name Kitchen & Table Store B.V. and a second as Studio Bazar with complete information, including a website which offers an email and mobile number to use while they are closed, but not closed
As I continued down the street, I noticed a few other innovative small businesses that adopted a similar approach with sheets of paper displaying a telephone number to call and order.
So, while a New York Times article “We’re Locked Down Again in the Netherlands” (24/12/2021) discussed the political complexities of the current situation and lamented “But here we are again, with no Christmas spirit in our empty restaurants and a maximum of two guests per household per day, the author, wisely continued “It being the Netherlands, though, there’s often a workaround”.
I am convinced, the Dutch became great innovators out of necessity, not simply curiosity. Who knew moving a full-sized sofa by bike could be so easy?