With all of the recent attempts to control the spread of COVID-19, it’s been a crazy few weeks. Individuals have been feeling the squeeze of quarantine and travel restrictions and businesses have been feeling similar effects. While some businesses’ sales are flourishing under the heightened demand associated with the public response, many others are finding sales have been stifled by the emergency responses of communities and governments.
Many small businesses have found that sales have begun to suffer due to travel restrictions and impositions to close and remain closed until the virus is under control. The fact is, however, that demand for goods hasn’t been affected so much as consumers’ abilities to patronize businesses – hence the situational drop off in sales.
Moreover, this state of affairs can occur at any time and does not need to be associated with a virus or the spread of a disease. Negative economic externality hit different corners of the market all the time, just seldom so universally as they are now. The point is, it’s happening now and it could happen again – but there’s no reason your business should suffer for it.
If you are a small business that is being adversely affected by the current state of affairs, then there’s no time like the present to open up an eCommerce business as a supplement to your brick and mortar retail operations.
Not only will launching an eCommerce operation as another facet of your business benefit you as a disaster preparedness plan, but if you are already running a business, some of the legwork is done for you. Consider the following:
You Already Know Your Target Market
While it’s easier for some than others to create an eCommerce website design for a web store, consider the fact that if you already run a brick and mortar business, you’ve already gotten some of the hardest parts of launching a business out of the way. In the first place, you already know your customers. You may even know your customers on a personal level.
Even if not, you know who shops at your store and who shops for your products and why. Most of the marketing research has been done for you in real time. You know what markets you serve, the different demographics that target your business and the reasons why they shop at your business instead of elsewhere. That’s one of the first things you’ll need to identify when opening a business.
You Already Know What You Sell
In addition to having already built acquaintanceship with many of your customers, you will also know what products you sell and even what prices you charge. For some businesses, opening an online store to continue business in the face of adversity can be nearly as simple as ‘copying and pasting’ your products onto a platform and opening up for business.
You won’t need to develop any products, just offer them for sale through an online portal, collect payments and ship them – which is the next part of this.
You Already Collect Payment
There’s more for which you’re already semi prepared. If you already operate a business, then you are already collecting payments for your goods and services, and you are probably even collecting payments through many gateways. Sure, you can’t collect cash online, but many eCommerce platforms make it easy to collect payments through credit cards, PayPal and much more.
One thing you will need to hammer out is how to ship your products to your customers, but that’s something we’ll address shortly. The point is that much of the work has already been done for you – you just need to roll your business into the online world. Doing so can help insulate you from economic downturns like the one we’re facing now as a result of these quarantines, and it will help better prepare you for similar future situations.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways turning to eCommerce can benefit your brick and mortar store, even if it’s only as a safeguard against situations like the one we’re facing now.
Pick the Right Platform for Your eCommerce Website Design
There are many platforms out there that can be used to build an eCommerce store, and each of them has its benefits and drawbacks. There’s no one single way that will work for every business. You’ll have to know your needs as a business in order to pick the right platform for an eCommerce venture.
Depending on your level of technical expertise, you can consider setting up a WordPress website that offers your business some functionality as an eCommerce store. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re going to use WordPress to build an eCommerce facet of your business, you’ll need plugins to enable you to sell through the site. You’ll also need to have some development experience in order to build out a custom store. There are templates you can use, but if you want to diverge from that, you’ll have to do the legwork. You’ll also have to host your website, so you’ll need to keep that in mind.
One viable option that you can take if you’re interested in creating a WordPress website as an alternative to some other (potentially) more costly alternatives is to use it primarily as a medium for communication. For example, you could limit the number of plugins you need to include with your store if you direct your customers to place orders with you over the phone and then come to your store to pick them up. That would cut out payment channels, since you could use those on which you rely in your store, and it would cut out the need for logistical arrangements.
A WordPress site that advertises your products, prices and stock labels and encourages customers to contact you to place orders might seem like a throwback measure, but it is still a great way to boost customer engagement all the same – and it will enable you to keep selling when there are restrictions in place.
That’s why many businesses with WordPress sites use it more as a lead generation website or for communicating news and specials to customers. It’s perfectly serviceable if you’re willing to put in the time and effort for development and support, but there are other options where most of the legwork is done for you.
To that end, you can use your WordPress site solely as a means of communication, even if you don’t sell directly through it. As you will already have built a loyal customer base that will more than likely be eager to keep up with your news, you can fill them in on the latest through current blogs, announcements and emails associated with a WordPress site. It isn’t categorically eCommerce, but it does support operations and it is one way to keep in touch with your customers during times like these.
If you’re willing to pay for the fees associated with some SAAS platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce, you’ll find there is a whole lot of custom functionality associated with them, and we mean a lot. They’re designed to be just about as scalable as you could hope for, able to support the smallest online retail operations and the largest international enterprises. They’re also wildly easy to use and highly customizable.
For example, you can sign up for one of these platforms, organize your site and enter the products you want to sell, choose the payments you want to sell, and be open for business that day. It offers you the convenience of accepting payment gateways like credit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay and many more. They handle payment processing and security as well.
You can layout the website however you decide and they’re even compatible with a wide range of apps that you might find very useful if you decide to grow your online business. In addition, Shopify and BigCommerce in particular have powerful inventory management tools that can come in useful for you when you need to start managing inventory digitally.
As we stated, you already know what you sell and the customers to whom you sell, along with an existing inventory. All you would need to take care of that wouldn’t be accounted for is shipping. Since you already run a store, drop shipping isn’t practical, but it’s easy to set up shipping through both Shopify and BigCommerce. You can fairly easily print your own labels and ship through carriers like the USPS, UPS or DHL – though other options exist.
Another route you could take that could help you out if you don’t have existing supply chain infrastructure to ship your products to clients is to offer pick-up in store or curbside pick-up as a part of the purchase. These are tactics that real retail operations are using right now that are helping to bolster their sales despite the fact that they can’t continue business as usual. It would also liberate you from the need to deal with shipping. In essence, it would be one of the purest and least complicated ways to convert your retail business to eCommerce sites. Really, the only thing that would be shifting would be point of sale. In this model, they can see your inventory in real time online as opposed to in store, and the point of sale would be shifting to online.
None of this is to suggest that you don’t need some developmental expertise when it comes to building a successful online business, even if it is only a complement to your brick and mortar retail operations. At 1DigitalⓇ Agency we specialize in crafting successful custom designs for our eCommerce clients, and if you need help converting some of your operations to the online sphere, give us a call. Our eCommerce development services can take your model to the next level, especially if you decide to pursue eCommerce with greater devotion once you see how it can complement your business.
Helping to protect yourself from unforeseen circumstances like those we are facing right now due to COVID-19 really can be as easy as signing up for one of these platforms and building your online store. You can put as much emphasis into building your store or as little as you like, but you might find that even when people can’t go shopping, the demand for your products is still there. You just need to take the necessary steps to connect your customers with your business.
If you launch an eCommerce store to help insulate your business from shutdowns like this, or even if you only launch one to take advantage of the opportunities that exist online, we’re here to help. Our clients have been making the most of our eCommerce development services for years and our eCommerce website design team has impressed our customers time and time again. You can do a lot of the legwork yourself, but if you want to create a truly unique, user friendly, brand integrated eCommerce website design offering a user experience without comparison, contact us for our expert customized eCommerce solutions.
- Michael Esposito
- March 27, 2020