In September, Go East, a family-run Asian food shop in Ipswich, celebrated its move to a larger space in the centre of the Suffolk town. Since Yixuan Cheung first opened the store in 2008, its stock of ingredients has grown from just Chinese to include food from Japan, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. Yixuan had watched appetites soar for the specialist imported ingredients she stocked. Go East was riding high. Then came Covid-19.
Yixuan shut the store’s doors on the Friday before lockdown, and looked at the prospect of a long period without any trade – and a huge amount of perishable stock. Pre-Covid-19, like many small independent shops with brisk local trade, an online presence for Go East never seemed necessary. But with lockdown looming, it was their only hope. In three days, using a phone to take photos of stock, the Go East team created a simple website from scratch, featuring hundreds of categorised products.
As the nation entered lockdown, people started to cook more at home and demand for ingredients climbed. It became clear to Yixuan that she needed to create wide awareness of the huge range of products she had to offer, so that people looking for Asian food supplies during lockdown would know where to go. Publicising Go East, and highlighting the fact that they could deliver (within a 10-mile radius), was key to sustaining the business while their doors remained closed. It was here that Google My Business proved indispensable.
Yixuan, who came to the UK in 1997 from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, has long had a knack for spotting trends and acting on it at the right time. When working at a retail job in a Chinese supermarket in Ipswich in the early 2000s, she noticed the growing demand for ingredients from not just Suffolk’s East Asian community but also people who were becoming more adventurous in their kitchens.
The category of world cuisine ready meals, cooking sauces and ingredients continues to boom – in 2019 it was worth £1.8bn. Now, clearly, the best way for Go East to tap deeper into this growing market was by focusing on it online.
Initially, Yixuan only announced the new site to her social media followers. Word spread locally and the orders started to come in, albeit in small numbers. Then, Yixuan and her husband Tak – who had taken to checking how prominently their business featured in Google search results for terms such as “Chinese supermarket Ipswich” – noticed the “Claim this business” option on Google Maps. Logging in with Tak’s Google account, they discovered Google My Business, a free tool for businesses to manage their online presence.
The Cheungs added more search terms, as well as the store’s shopping categories and its opening hours. Customers proved keen to engage with the business by leaving feedback, and soon they had 40 reviews, with an average rating of 4.5 out of five.
When footfall returns to Go East, the Cheungs still plan to grow the online business
The tool also gave details about how their customers came to the website, whether via Google searches or Google Maps, for example, including those who then requested directions to the store or clicked on the telephone button to call.
“It’s very handy, and not something we were aware of until we actually claimed Go East as our own business,” Tak says. “Now when we look at the graphs, we can see that they shot up right after I put in all the correct wording and categories.”
Within a fortnight, their website saw visitor traffic increase by 30%. “We now have a number of new clients who were previously not aware of our existence,” says Yixuan.
The Cheungs continue to refine their Google My Business settings to keep Go East’s online presence strong. Trade remains steady, and has been enough to keep them in business.
Yixuan now wants to grow their online service even when footfall hopefully returns to normal. “Maybe we can go national one day,” she says.
Tak adds: “Now I don’t think we’re scared of trying something new.”
To find out how Google can help your business adapt, visit: g.co/smallbusiness