COVID-19 has changed the way we do business and how people engage with businesses. While high street footfall has dropped, the online market is flourishing. Is it time to move your business online?
Consumers are adapting to the fondly termed 'new normal'. With life in continuous flux and the 'next normal' unknown, it's vital businesses learn, adapt, and prepare.
Brick-and-mortar stores have faced significant challenges — from navigating lockdowns to reopening with a new set of considerations. We've seen the adoption of digital technologies accelerate. Businesses are reimagining ways of working and modifying their strategies to meet changing consumer behaviors and expectations.
Many have invested in their online presence — creating or enhancing their digital offering to build resilience and keep their brand accessible and relevant. We explore why you should move your business online and just what's needed to transition successfully.
Most businesses will already have a digital presence. It's essential to reaching a customer base that is already digitally mobilized. A great site will boost your company image, help customers find you, and drive engagement. Having the capacity to sell online gives your customers greater access to your products and services – locally and globally – and can help ensure business continuity in times of crisis.
This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but provides some key talking points when establishing a digital operation.
If you don't have a website, you'll need to build one. If you do, it's all about optimizing it and refreshing it with relevant content.
Depending on your budget, you can outsource and hire an agency or web developer to set you up. Alternatively, there are so many fantastic platforms out there to help you build your own. Providers such as Shopify deliver a streamlined eCommerce site with a professional storefront and the tools you need to sell online, market, and even manage your business.
While an attractive website is a must, it also needs to be user-friendly, feature quality content, and answer customers' needs. Maintenance is essential. Your site must be up-to-date with the latest products (and their availability) and correct prices. Crucially, be clear about the purchasing process — from product descriptions to delivery options and timeframes.
This article on lead nurture and customer conversion provides additional points to make the experience a positive one for your customers.
Online is a competitive market. To be seen, you'll need to focus on optimizing your website and your content. Step one: assess your SEO (aka search engine optimization).
What is SEO? SEO helps increase the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through search engine results pages (SERPs). Play your SEO cards right, and you will rank you higher in SERPs — a result above the competition. There's an abundance of available online resources to help you grow your web presence (some free). For a little more information, check out this article on search engine optimization for small businesses.
Social media has become a cornerstone for businesses looking to raise their profile and build customer communities online. It helps you get your message out there, promote your product, and share relevant content that resonates with your customers. Plus, it's become an awesome eCommerce tool. Sites such as Facebook and Instagram enable you to sell your products and services on-platform. Depending on your industry, Instagram is an effective way of reaching a captive audience — 79% of whom search Instagram for information on products or services (more great Insta stats here).
Optimization and analysis/reporting go hand in hand. Understanding how your business is performing and the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns is critical to success. Driving improvement requires monitoring business metrics, analyzing performance, and keeping your finger on the pulse of market changes.
Whether building a new site or enhancing an existing one, adding eCommerce capabilities can be simple. Setting up a point of sale (POS) system using a provider such as Vend is a great start. Systems like this should work seamlessly with existing hardware, and can be used in-store and online, making it easy for your customers to shop with you.
POS systems are ideal as they support contactless, are secure, and let you sell on-the-go. Plus, full oversight of your POS function — via a dashboard and streamlined reporting — helps you manage your cash.
When you start selling online, start right. Implement a policy that defines how it will work. You'll need to decide whether to provide delivery and 'Click & Collect'? Yes? Then you need to determine how you'll manage the service, identify related overheads, and set realistic delivery timeframes. You might experience a spike in sales – how will you manage potential increased demand? What about returns — what will your return and refund policy be?
If you're a restaurant or café, you'll need to put in place an effective ordering system that will not overwhelm your kitchen and underwhelm your customers. For takeaways, will you have a limited menu? How will you manage collection and delivery?
If you provide a service, you'll need to implement an online booking service so customers can make appointments. You can embed these services into your website or provide a link to a third-party app (and there are free ones available).
Take your customers on your digital journey — don't leave them behind. Leverage your social media channels to inform them that you're now online, where they can find you, and what's on offer. If you have a mailing list (you should), run a campaign to do the same.
But don't let the comms drop off! Engage and reengage. Diversify your content portfolio and your communications channels and meet your customers where they are.
Consider starting a blog. There is such scope to create great content that drives traffic, adds value for your customers, and keeps them coming back (loyal customers are the best kind of customers). For example, if you run a salon, consider beauty guides, makeup or hair tips and trends, and video tutorials. All this content is shareable on your website, via your social platforms, emails, or other.
If you want to gain traction on your website and increase conversions (sell more), you will need a supporting marketing strategy. This five-minutes read shares some tips on how to drive sales with eCommerce marketing activities.
The message is simple: if you're not online at some capacity, you're missing out. COVID-19 has required businesses to act fast and pivot hard. We've seen some inspiring stories of how traditional operations, shut down by the pandemic, found opportunities in unlikely places and transformed a challenge into an opportunity. Perhaps online is your untapped opportunity.
We're still waking up to the impacts of COVID-19. Businesses are navigating economic uncertainty and changing customer behaviors. We focus on the hospitality sector and building financial resilience.
While we don't know the impact of COVID-19 on business, we know that it's vital that you manage your cash flow.