“It’s safe to say that, over the last 18 months, it’s been a bumpy ride,” said Carl Reader at the start of his master class workshop: Digitization in the COVID-19 era and ecommerce trends.
Reader is a best-selling author, serial entrepreneur, speaker, and business commentator. He’s worked with thousands of businesses, helping them start or grow and achieve what they want to achieve. Reader’s master class concluded the Entrepreneurship Exchange 2021, a virtual summit hosted by QuickBooks to bring small business leaders, entrepreneurs, and experts together to discuss and discover innovative solutions for the future of business. If you missed it, you can check out the full recording here.
“The pandemic has caused some unimaginable disruption to the economy,” Reader continued. “Particularly for small businesses who might not have been prepared for their digital journey. They might not have even had a website.” These businesses had to pivot very, very quickly if they wanted to outlast the lockdowns.
And pivot they did. “It’s been very up and down, and in some cases very traumatic, but it has also been exceptional to see some of the inspirational stories,” said Reader. From those stories, Reader compiled ten actionable tips and best practices for small businesses looking to adopt ecommerce strategies. We cover a few of them below, but be sure to watch the recording for the full ten tips.
1. Ecommerce isn’t just for product-based businesses
When you think ecommerce, you probably think retail. Selling products online isn’t much different from selling products from a brick and mortar store. But pivoting to an ecommerce business gets a little trickier for service-based businesses or businesses that rely on in-person interactions. Tricky, says Reader, but not impossible.
Reader says that all businesses, product-based or not, need to think about building an omnichannel sales strategy. For example, Reader points to a small business owner, Rob, with a sports training business for kids. Rob’s business was reliant on meeting with kids in person to teach them sports activities. When the pandemic hit, preventing in-person interactions, Rob’s business model had to shift. And Rob had to think outside the box to transition his non-product-based business to the ecommerce landscape.
Rob partnered with a local boxer to design an online boxing curriculum that could be taught virtually. Together, they managed to build a successful online business that continues to operate in the wake of the pandemic. No matter what type of business you own, “we need to think about how we can adapt what we do and create an online opportunity,” said Reader.
2. Bricks and clicks is a winning combination
If you’ve got a brick and mortar location as well as an ecommerce store, you’ve got bricks and clicks. This is an omnichannel sales strategy that has worked well for big-name brands like Apple, Sephora, and IKEA. A sprinkling of brick and mortar stores allow customers to see and experience the products first-hand, and a robust ecommerce experience allows them to purchase those products online. Of course, these brands have one thing most small business owners don’t: money to spare.
You might not have the funds to open a flagship store in a capital city, or any type of physical location, but there are still ways to maximize the bricks and clicks strategy. Reader points to a London B2B clothing business as an example. Pre-pandemic, this business supplied their products to online retailers. As demand dwindled, they needed to find new ways to get their products in consumer hands. Literally. Through the use of pop-up locations, this business was able to showcase their products while increasing traffic to their website and social channels.
Ecommerce is on the rise, but consumers still like to see and feel a tangible product before they purchase. For businesses hoping to grow and thrive, bricks and clicks is a winning combination.
3. Keep the customer journey in mind
When you operate a brick and mortar store, the customer journey can be as short as the distance from the parking lot to your front door. Of course, they might have seen an ad or heard about your store through word of mouth. But when you operate primarily online, the customer journey gets a bit more complex.
For example, Reader references his client, Ben. Ben owns a company called Lux Collective, a seller of designer wear for women. When Ben analyzed his customer journey, he found that while he was making a lot of sales from Instagram, he was getting a lot of attention and eyeballs on another social media platform: TikTok. So he decided to use TikTok, not as a sales channel, but as a brand platform. He made videos showcasing life at Lux Collective–how they authenticate their items, how they package and ship their products, and how their team operates. The videos went viral–but they didn’t sell a single item through TikTok.
Instead, they funneled these new leads to other sales platforms. And because these leads had already come to know and trust the brand, they felt comfortable making what could be a significant purchase when they finally reached the website. The journey is the destination, as they say.
Whether you sell in-store or online, your customer journey may not be as direct as you think it is. It’s worth your while to collect and analyze customer data to refine and maximize the journey.
The future of ecommerce and how small businesses can prepare
“A question I hear over and over again is ‘how do I see ecommerce trends evolving post pandemic?’” said Reader. “And you know what? This is a million dollar question.”
The answer remains to be seen, but Reader believes ecommerce is here to say–at least, to an extent. The pandemic certainly increased the appetite for people to shop online, he said, if only through necessity. But now consumers have experienced the benefit of fast delivery, online grocery shopping, and in-store pickup. It would be a tough sell to remove these conveniences.
But Reader does not think consumers are done with physical shopping. “As a society,” he said, “we will become more comfortable with the ‘showrooming’ concept.” (Think mattress stores.) Reader believes there will always be a need to touch and feel tangible products given the cost or the perceived importance of the purchase. Eventually, storefronts will simply become product showcases for online items, removing the expensive necessity of storing stock.
“Our tolerance for purchasing online will only increase over time,” said Reader. In other words, if you’re not online yet, you should be.
His best advice for small businesses new to the ecommerce scene? Start somewhere. There are plenty of ecommerce solutions like Shopify, eBay, and Amazon that make it easy to move your business online. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. It’s always better to get your business in front of customers on a platform that’s 90% perfect than it is to wait for a perfect solution or try to build a solution from scratch. As he closed out the master class, Reader left listeners with this word to the wise: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
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