While the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated many businesses worldwide, some have been able to survive at least in part by increasing their use of ecommerce.
This article explains how COVID-19 has accelerated the use of ecommerce and how ecommerce has helped businesses survive the pandemic. We also provide practical tips for operating a successful online business.
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COVID-19 Has Accelerated the Use of Ecommerce
According to the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, ecommerce represented 16% of total global retail sales at the beginning of 2020. Eventually, ecommerce will account for most of the growth in the retail industry.
More People Than Ever Are Shopping Online
COVID-19 has accelerated the trend toward online shopping.
Market research company eMarketer reports that, according to a survey, 41% of respondents started making more purchases online between March and April of 2020. This includes all categories of goods, from groceries to clothing and electronics.
According to eMarketer, some of these consumers stockpiled goods at the beginning of the pandemic and then slowed their online shopping. However, others continued their higher rate of spending.
Oliver Wyman also found that:
- Online orders are growing two to three times each year, and some retailers are selling at least 20 times more online than they used to.
- Although consumers have resisted buying some types of goods online, such as groceries, this attitude is changing in an effort to avoid contact with others during the pandemic.
- The longer the pandemic persists, the more permanent the shift to ecommerce will be across a wide variety of goods and services.
COVID-19 Has Expanded the Scope of Ecommerce
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also found that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the long-term trend toward ecommerce. Specifically, according to the OECD:
- The pandemic has expanded the scope of ecommerce to new companies, consumer segments such as the elderly, and products.
- Ecommerce transactions have partly shifted from luxury goods to basic necessities.
- The shift to ecommerce has allowed companies to stay in business despite contact restrictions due to COVID-19.
- Some of these changes are likely to remain after the pandemic is over, in part because consumers have gotten used to the convenience of ecommerce.
5 Ways Small Businesses Can Use Ecommerce to Survive Covid
Companies with an established online presence are well-positioned to take advantage of the trend toward online shopping. Small businesses can use ecommerce to survive COVID-19 by:
- Creating an online store if they don’t have one
- Using online sales to lessen the impact of closed brick-and-mortar stores
- Managing inventory more effectively
- Maintaining existing customer relationships
- Finding new customers
1: Creating an Online Store if They Don’t Already Have One
If you’re reasonably tech-savvy, you can create your online store yourself using tools provided by the ecommerce platform. Alternatively, you can pay someone to do it for you.
2: Using Online Sales to Lessen the Impact of Closed Brick-and-Mortar Stores
Physical stores all over the world have closed due to the pandemic. Although many of them will eventually reopen, ecommerce can reduce the impact of these closures by boosting sales revenue.
3: Managing Inventory More Effectively
An online store can easily limit customer purchases of items for which inventory is running low. In addition, you can use customer data gathered when people shop to suggest items they might have overlooked.
4: Maintaining Existing Customer Relationships
Ecommerce allows you to maintain your existing business relationships with your customers. If they can continue buying your products and service despite store closures, they will be less likely to go to a competitor.
You also should continue to communicate with your customers and let them know that you still want to meet their needs. Customers who feel taken care of by a favorite retailer are much more apt to remain loyal.
5: Finding New Customers
With online selling, you don’t have to rely on foot traffic past your store to attract customers. Moreover, your customers don’t even have to live in your town or state.
This means that no matter the size of your business, it has the potential to find customers nationwide, or even worldwide, with the right products or services and an effective marketing strategy. Whether it’s selling through Amazon or advertising your own online store on social media, finding new customers has never been easier.
Tips for Succeeding With Ecommerce
Although ecommerce can help a business survive COVID-19, there are some important things to keep in mind if you want your online business to thrive. In particular:
- Be Proactive
- Keep Your Product Information Up to Date
- Help Your Customers Shop
- Fill Orders Fast
- Keep Your Customers Informed
- Don’t Sabotage Yourself
- Target Your Customers Carefully
It is always important to be proactive and adapt to new challenges when running a business, but this is especially important during the pandemic. Finding innovative ways to reach new customers and serve your existing ones is paramount.
Also, keep in mind that online shopping is not a passing fad. Rather, as the data above indicate, consumers are likely to continue shopping online more and more even after the pandemic ends.
Keep Your Product Information Up-to-Date
There’s nothing more frustrating than ordering something, only to be told later that your order was canceled because the product is out of stock. Keep this from happening to your customers by constantly maintaining an accurate product inventory.
Along the same lines, make sure the product information on your website is accurate, including colors, features, dimensions, etc. No one likes to purchase something based on an inaccurate description.
Help Your Customers Shop
Online stores have a myriad of ways to help customers find what they want. These include, for example, suggesting related products, keeping customers’ order histories for easy repeat purchases, and making your website easy to navigate.
Fill Orders Fast
Amazon set the bar for fast order delivery with two-day shipping for Amazon Prime purchases. While most businesses lack the infrastructure to do this, shipping orders as fast as possible will go a long way toward keeping customers happy.
Keep Customers Informed
When a customer orders something, promptly send them an order confirmation, an expected delivery date, and a tracking number.
Don’t Sabotage Yourself
Keep prices consistent between your online and physical stores. Inconsistent pricing will confuse customers and potentially undermine sales in one channel or the other.
Target Your Customers Carefully
A few companies – namely Amazon and Walmart – have succeeded in selling just about everything. Since competing with them is nearly impossible, don’t try.
Instead, find a market niche that you can succeed in. Offer something that the big online retailers don’t offer to a carefully chosen group of customers, and your online company will be set to thrive.