COVID-19: How should local businesses be promoting themselves online?


Should businesses continue promoting their discounts and deals online as a way of encouraging customers to visit their store during the virus outbreak? Robb Report Singapore’s editorial team gives their two cents worth

Daryl Lee, motoring editor

It depends if it’s done tastefully (no profiteering and blithe references to the pandemic) and if it respects current guidelines regarding lockdowns and social distancing. That becomes a moot point if the promotions are conducted online, of course. But broadly speaking, I think life still must go on and businesses have a right to stay in business, if nothing else for the wider sake of the economy.

Jacqueline Danam, chief sub-editor

If it’s their online store, yes, they should. People love a good deal and shopping is always a welcome distraction.

If it’s their brick-and-mortar store, then businesses need to be cautious about this as they would need to abide by the new rules imposed by the government. But I would prefer to buy from a physical shop as it’s always better to be able to see and touch the product. Plus, if I have questions, I can get answers straight away from the staff, rather than wait interminably online for a chatbot that will just give me standard replies.

So, yes, businesses should continue their promotions, but everyone – businesses as well as customers – must be responsible and adhere to the social-distancing measures.

Making the right move is one thing, but how would we know if it’s right?

Celine Yap, editor-at-large, watches and jewellery

I think it depends on what kind of business it is. Is it a B2B or B2C business, and are they selling products or a service? It also depends on the location of the shop, and viability of online platforms for the business.

Business need to go on, livelihoods need to be made, bills need to be paid, mouths need to be fed. I think these can be done with a bit of mindfulness on the part of the business owner and the customers.

As for discounts and deals, this is where businesses need to be extra mindful, not to promote over indulging or excessive consumption. Personally, I don’t like this kind of messages, whether or not there is a pandemic situation. For example, when ads have a promotional message that says ‘Come and eat all you can for extra cheap’. I think it encourages gorging and gluttony and desensitises people to the importance of respecting our food / food sources.

I think it’s fine to have promotions crafted with the right tone. Navigating crises is part and parcel of running a business, and this is also a test of the business owners’ resourcefulness and tenacity. Whether in-store or online or via delivery, it needs to be managed in accordance with the healthcare policies.

Charmaine Tai, editor / content strategist

I’m on the fence. The world needs to keep moving, and businesses still have to go on at the end of the day. Many restaurants have had to face the difficult decision of either letting their staff go on no-pay leave, giving them a pay cut, or those who are able to, implementing takeaway and delivery services. These companies also feel responsible for the welfare of their employees, and if they are committed to retaining their employees and paying wages, the business has to remain open.

That said, it is rather irritating to receive news about Easter or Mother’s Day promotions at this point in time. If you’re not offering delivery options, should you really still be in business? You’re unnecessarily exposing your staff, and at what cause? Offering ala carte options instead of a buffet does little to make the situation better, unless you live on camp “all press is good press”, and don’t mind being known as the new cluster zone.

Instead of announcing 1-for-1 deals, which comes across as just riding on the waves of the virus to do some self-promotion and encouraging people to leave their homes, businesses can be more tactful and sensitive (see colleagues’ opinions for ways on how to work around it). This may sound harsh, but if you can’t offer takeaway or delivery, then maybe you ought to shut for a bit.

Hannah Choo, senior editor

It’s a rock and a hard place. In a time like this, while social distancing is good for public health, it is hurting businesses, and the effects of COVID-19 are probably going to last one or two years. Or more, but I’m no expert. I think using discounts and promotions to your advantage is totally fine, but instead of encouraging the public to leave the house for you, find alternatives. Go digital, increase your social media presence and work with other companies to bring in business together. Help out one another; landlords should, too! We are fighting a common enemy, after all.

Andrew Leci, raving reporter

This is a fairly simple, “hell no”, from me, if it means encouraging throngs of people to leave their homes and congregate at a mall or shopping area just to get a good deal. While I appreciate that times are hard for all businesses (and many of their employees) trying to facilitate any kind of mass gathering is a) against the guidelines laid down by the government – those set in place for a very good reason, and b) socially irresponsible and morally reprehensible.

I appreciate the fact that it works both ways and that many people are looking for bargains and discounts when financial futures are so uncertain, but we’re all going to have to get more creative when we want or need something, until the situation improves.

Wherever possible (and I am fully aware of the fact that it isn’t always) we should be encouraging businesses to offer online services and help them as much as we can by using those services. Let’s try to think of ways in which we can use technology to maintain our quality of life without having to put ourselves and others, potentially, in harm’s way. Sermon over.

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