The Growing Importance of Ecommerce in a Post-COVID-19 World
Recent events have made an already exploding trend even more important. So, how can small and medium businesses take a page from the big teams’ playbooks?
The popularity of ecommerce is not a new story. The big players—Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba, and others have been rapidly expanding in the last few years.
The COVID-19 situation, however, has accelerated the growth of this convenience movement for businesses of every size.
How Quarantines Have Affected Ecommerce
In March 2020, much of the world went into lockdown, forcing many businesses to temporarily shut down. As of this writing, cities are gradually relaxing restrictions, but the future is still uncertain. Even businesses that are reopening have restrictions enforcing social distancing, the wearing of masks, and limits on how many customers can enter a space at one time.
When traditional shopping becomes difficult, or may even be scary, people are increasingly inclined to shop online. The fact that consumers were already embracing Amazon and other online retailers with open arms made this transition considerably easier.
Online revenue growth as of April 2020 was up 68%. There's a good chance that this trend will continue in the post-quarantine world. The advantages of online shopping aren't going to disappear even when retail businesses reopen fully. All of this points to why this is the ideal time to either start or double down on your e-commerce efforts.
Factors that Will Continue to Drive Ecommerce Growth
Let's look at some of the reasons that customers are likely to continue shopping more and more online.
- New shopping habits. Due to quarantine, people's way of buying items has changed. The situation has persisted long enough for these patterns to become ingrained. Certainly, when stores open customers will venture out more. However, this doesn't mean they'll suddenly stop the fairly addictive, and comforting feeling of shopping online.
- COVID-19 fears aren't going to disappear overnight. Even when the quarantine ends, people will be cautious and many will still prefer shopping from the safety of their homes.
- The rapid growth of mobile devices is making it easier than ever to browse and shop online. Customers can place orders one-handed from the device that is likely in their hand or pocket at all times.
- Even as some items became scarce in physical stores there were options for ordering online. And things like toilet paper that became nonexistent in brick and mortar stores could be ordered or pre-ordered online.
Convenience, wide selection, and savings have spurred online retail since the beginning. This will continue exponentially as e-commerce becomes even more popular and competitive.
The Importance of Omnichannel Strategies
Just as we think of omnichannel marketing in terms of consistent digital touchpoints across web, mobile, email and more, your customers will appreciate options in how they choose to transact business with you.
While we can talk about live shopping and online shopping as distinct and even competitive models, in reality, they are actually merging more and more. This means that even customers who are loyal to traditional brick and mortar brands will find it tempting to do more browsing and buying online. Let's look at a few notable examples of this.
Online giant Amazon has been testing the waters of brick and mortar retail. In addition to buying the natural foods chain Whole Foods, Amazon has opened retail locations in several cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, and New York.
Meanwhile, Walmart, America's leading retailer, is quickly expanding its online presence. Shoppers can place orders online and pick up the items at the store to avoid waiting in line. At the same time, Alibaba, known as China's version of Amazon, has opened up retail outlets in China. As with Walmart and other chains like Target, Bed Bath and Beyond shoppers can choose between in-person or online shopping or merge the two.
Brick-and-mortar department stores such as Macy's and Kohl's are finding creative ways to merge online and offline shopping. Macy's, an iconic brand whose first stores opened in 1843, now has an app that allows for online browsing, accessing shopping history, picking up orders, and more. Kohl's has an in-store kiosk that lets shoppers check inventory, prices, reviews, and other information. It also makes it possible to order items that are not in stock at a particular store.
Sephora is famous for its sophisticated technology that allows customers, either at home or in a store, to quickly see how makeup and beauty treatments will look on them.
Smaller businesses can also offer convenient services such as online shopping combined with in-store pickup. If you have a brick-and-mortar business, keep in mind that combining with a digital experience can improve the overall of both the in-store transaction as well as online shopping. Starting with an easy to navigate website, you can make it convenient for customers to do research, check options and specifications, and anything else that's relevant online.
Make the Most of Social Media
Social media provides a great opportunity to connect with customers and bridge the gap between online and offline shopping.
- Social media ads. Advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and other social sites can drive traffic to your online store.
- Use Pinterest to promote products. For selling physical items, Pinterest is one of the best options as many users come to this site to browse for inspiration. You can build traffic organically with pins and boards as well as by advertising on Pinterest.
- Engage with your followers. It's important to stay connected to your followers. Monitor your channels and promptly answer questions and comments.
Principles to Keep in Mind for the Ecommerce Revolution
While the COVID-19 quarantine will inevitably end at some point, many of the economic changes that are happening are likely to remain. Here are some general tips to keep in mind.
- Connect with your customers in a multi- or omnichannel way, understanding that the same customer may, on different days, shop on Amazon, another online store, or come to your business in person.
- Be transparent. If you're experiencing difficulties due to shortages, rising costs of certain items, or delays due to supply chain issues, be open with your customers. Keep them informed about the latest developments and don't try to hide problems.
- Be flexible. During and, most likely, after the COVID-19 quarantine, customers appreciate having as many choices as possible when it comes to customer service, shipping, payment options, and every aspect of a transaction. For example, if you began offering home delivery service while you were forced to shut down, you might consider continuing this policy even when your doors are open.
- Study your data. It's important for you to know which platforms and channels are bringing you the best results. You can also collect valuable information from customers directly through polls, customer service interactions, and monitoring social media comments and reviews.
Customers Will Continue to Embrace Ecommerce
More and more, customers now appreciate the convenience of online shopping. While the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 may have made online shopping even more appealing, this is actually a long-term trend that's likely to continue well into the post-pandemic future. In order to make the most of this, businesses need to offer transparency, flexible policies, and convenient omni-channel solutions for shoppers.
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