COVID-19 and eCommerce: How the Landscape Has Changed for All Retailers
The statistics are compelling: The COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown have had a massive effect on eCommerce.
Daily revenue for online retailers from March 8 onward has increased by 58.4% over the period immediately prior. Comparing year over year, eCommerce orders have gone up by 129%. Buyers are increasingly turning to eCommerce to acquire everyday groceries during the pandemic. The purchase of canned goods and shelf-stable items has risen by 69% and 58%, respectively.
The exodus to online retailers in the wake of COVID-19 may have more permanent effects on customer behavior. In the near term, nearly a quarter of shoppers said they wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a shopping mall in person for the next six months.
Looking further ahead, some of these new patterns might be more entrenched. Now that customers are obliged, more or less, to use eCommerce for most of their purchases, they’ve become more aware of its advantages. The saving of time and personal effort is making an impression, as is the overall efficiency of online shopping.
Changes in human behavior are typically driven by major, catalytic events—many of them, unfortunately, tragic ones like COVID-19. While the anguish and uncertainty of the coronavirus should always be remembered, its lasting effect on society will likely also include long-term economic shifts. If businesses were strongly advised to develop an eCommerce strategy before, now it may be a requisite for their survival.
Breaking down barriers to eCommerce
Brick-and-mortar establishments have long been advised to establish and create an online or social media presence for themselves. For many of them, it’s simply an extension of their marketing efforts—to find customers they wouldn’t have gotten through traditional means or to develop their brand identity.
Some have balked at the idea of developing an eCommerce component. In the past, especially for small retailers, many of their reasons for not having an online shopping option might have made sense. But the COVID-19 pandemic—and the development of accessible technology—has necessitated a shift in that reality.
The time, expense, and expertise to build a digital storefront were barriers at one time. Especially with local businesses whose existence depended on in-person patronage and word of mouth, eCommerce was perceived as more of a frill than a fundamental. With limited capital for tech efforts, going with an online option didn’t seem practical. It looked like an entirely separate business model with which integration would be too complex.
Businesses were reassessing this mentality well before COVID-19 struck. Technology has become less expensive and more accessible. Small retailers with few resources available for tech have found affordable and complete services become available from companies like BigCommerce.
Far from weakening their reputation or success, eCommerce has helped businesses adapt their strongest, less metric-driven traits as well. The service standards that drive customer loyalty now include the flexibility of online shopping—any retailer that can harness that component successfully stands to retain and expand their customers’ support. The recent emergence of increased delivery options and curbside pickup support that thinking.
Local retailers and merchants now see that eCommerce isn’t the implementation of a whole new business model, but rather an extension of their current one. For the holdouts, COVID-19 has forced their hands. But they can still make the changes they need.
Thoughts and strategies for establishing an eCommerce marketplace
Developing an eCommerce arm involves a few strategic alterations in a small business’s thinking. But many of them are solid business suggestions in and of themselves. Others are compelled by the commercial paradigm shift that COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders have commanded but could result in competitive advantages long after the pandemic has subsided.
- Investigate your options. Access to eCommerce tools and administration is no longer a mysterious and costly drain on resources. Entities like BigCommerce have developed full suites of services, including set-up, maintenance, and data retrieval, that businesses of any size or location can take advantage of. Creating an online marketplace that reflects your business’s operations, offerings, and personality is part of their job.
- Create a strong mobile component. Smartphones are the option of choice in the current marketplace, and the need for convenience during the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased its power. Developing a strong, simple interface for mobile customers has transformed from a great option into an essential part of everyday business. It’s much easier to achieve these days, and it’s something your digital consultant can build.
- Connect with your customers. Right now, communication about how COVID-19 is impacting business moves the needle for many companies, including brick-and-mortar retailers. Expressing how your store has reacted to the coronavirus, and how you are adjusting your service options, reveals your desire to connect to your customer base in human terms. That reinforces trust. Email is an ideal way to convey this alternate messaging; the dedicated email marketing platform Klaviyo can help you maintain the link with your customer base during this pandemic.
- Set up a live chat component. Large e-tailers and services have adopted live chat boxes as an effective way to deal with personal orders with specific needs. This simple mechanism, whether it’s video- or text-based, has resurrected the personal element of business transactions for the online era, and customers appreciate the option.
- Alter your marketing messages. Hard sell tactics—“Order now!” “Supplies are limited!”—are, at least temporarily, not compatible with the way many customers are feeling. Moving the tone of your marketing messages toward one that demonstrates how you’re helping the community get through the coronavirus crisis bolsters your stature. This is generally true no matter what’s happening in the world, but especially now.
- Ramp up your social media and blog posts. Customers are interested in finding personal connections in this period of isolation, and social media is a simple way to show your business’s character. Posts or blogs that demonstrate how you and your business is handling or coping with the pandemic are what people want to see.
- Introduce new ways to accommodate your customers. eCommerce is especially helpful in highlighting the various means you use to fulfill their orders—from curbside pickup and delivery to free shipping and relaxed return policies. Diversify your delivery offerings as practically as you can.
- Establish a digital loyalty program. Rewarding consumers for consistent online purchases, or even just signing up for an account, is an effective way to retain recurring customers. Smile.io offers a suite of services that sets up your online loyalty program, and makes it easy for a business owner to run it without having to rely on developers. The smile.io interface builds around the look and feel of your existing site, and helps you quickly design and launch an effective model for rewarding your customers.
Wide-scale, globally momentous events like the COVID-19 pandemic leave lingering effects of society at large, forcing changes in routine and refinements in approach. Certainly, this has been the case with struggling retailers striving to survive through physical store shutdowns. Developing an eCommerce component is one of the best ways to manage that survival. DigitlHaus is helping businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic with their award-winning eCommerce solutions. Contact us for support in keeping your online marketplace and bonding with your customers during the coronavirus crisis.