Tips for Small Businesses Pivoting to eCommerce Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

Tips for Small Businesses Pivoting to eCommerce Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned business as we know it on its head — especially traditional small businesses and mom-and-pop shops. With consumers largely social distancing and many regions still on lockdown, business owners need to be more creative than ever about how they’re generating revenue. In fact, many are pivoting to online sales. 

To help you pivot your small business to a revenue-generating eCommerce company, we put together the following guide, which includes: 

  • How retail and eCommerce have changed over the last couple of months
  • What existing companies and businesses are doing to survive the crisis 
  • Tips for taking your business online
  • How current trends will likely change the way we do business — both in person and online — for the long-term

Let’s dive in.

How eCommerce has Changed Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

There has been unprecedented change to eCommerce — in terms of both selling online and shopping online. On one hand, consumers are buying online now more than ever. On the other, disruptions in supply chains, fulfillment delays, and changing guidelines from marketplaces like Amazon have forced sellers to rethink their strategies. At the same time, consumers have had to change their expectations, in particular when it comes to shipping and delivery times. 

Here’s some interesting data and other info on what eCommerce looks like today:

  • eCommerce order volume in March and April has increased by 47% compared to last year. To meet demand, companies like Amazon are hiring workers to help manage fulfillment. For example, Amazon has hired 100,000 new employees for their fulfillment centers — and they’re expected to hire 75,000 more. 
  • But what people are buying online has changed. With all the uncertainty out there (especially when it comes to the economy), people are much more conscious of what they’re spending their money on. This should come as no surprise, but essential items are a priority for consumers. So are “new essentials,” which include products that make stay-at-home orders more comfortable — these include things like office supplies, exercise gear, home improvement-related items, hobbies, and more. 
  • Even though eCommerce order volumes are way up, Amazon postponed Prime Day — arguably the biggest online shopping day of the year — because of concerns around consumer buying behavior and supply chain disruptions.

All this said, there is still a lot of uncertainty in eCommerce. What IS certain, however, is that your brick-and-mortar business will need to adapt to survive widespread shutdown orders. Many businesses have already started pivoting online — continue to the next section to see some examples and get inspiration for your own business.

How Businesses are Generating Revenue During COVID-19 

Small businesses are doing everything they can to remain afloat during these stressful and uncertain times. To give you some inspiration on how to turn your traditionally face-to-face business into a revenue-generating eCommerce business, here are some examples of what companies are already doing:

  • Retail stores are starting to sell their goods online — some as simply as sharing on their social media pages, taking phone orders, and doing contactless deliveries or curbside pickup.
  • Salons are packaging at-home hair coloring kits for their clients.
  • Restaurants and cafes are honoring takeout orders — and some are even creating daily meal specials for families. Some coffee shops are even selling packages of coffee beans and ground coffee.
  • Healthcare practitioners are turning to telehealth sessions to keep their clients and patients engaged — some are even getting creative with online selling, like selling knee braces or toothbrushes online.
  • Farmers markets are accepting online pre-orders for contactless, drive-thru pickups.
  • Major food distributors like Baldor are shifting from B2B to B2C and now selling bulk food items to individuals.
  • Gyms are offering fitness classes online — some free and some paid.

As you can see, businesses are getting creative. Now, it’s your turn. In our next section, we outline 6 ways to bring your business online and start generating revenue.

6 Tips for Businesses Coming Online

If your small business has been suffering amid social distancing and stay-at-home orders, you might want to consider taking it online. To do so effectively, we’ve compiled the following 6 tips that cover everything from online marketplaces and eCommerce platforms to POS and banking options and more:

  1. Find your online offer: Depending on your specific business, selling online could be a no-brainer. For example, if you’re a retail store, you could start selling your inventory online. But if you’re more service-based, you’ll need to get creative about what you actually sell online. Will you do virtual sessions online? Will you offer anything for free (like free online yoga or fitness classes) to build brand equity? Does your niche/area of expertise lend itself to a certain product category (for example, physical therapists selling knee braces or other related gear online)? Would a subscription box of some kind make sense?
  2. Choose A Marketplace and/or eCommerce Platform: After you figure out what you’re going to sell online, you’ll need to decide where to sell it online — i.e. will you sell on an online marketplace like Amazon, Walmart, Etsy, or eBay on an eCommerce platform like Shopify or via your own website or social media channels? There are so many options and which one is right for your business depends on a number of factors, like what you sell, how you plan to fulfill it, and more. As a starting point, check out our guide for getting started on Amazon to see if that’s a fit for your business. Find out how an Amazon consultant can help you establish, maintain and grow your business on Amazon. Awesome Dynamic is a full-service Amazon consulting agency that provides Amazon seller services ranging from product listing optimization, to PPC management and FBA assistance, and more.
  3. Pick A Shipping/Fulfillment Plan: If you’re selling an actual product, how much inventory do you currently have? Do you need to order more — and if so, how will you source it and where will you store it? Do you plan to fulfill and ship orders yourself, or will you outsource? These are all questions to consider when it comes to getting your products into the hands of your customers. If you’re completely new to selling online, consider using a third party shipping or fulfillment company to help with your orders. And make sure you understand the importance of inventory management so you don’t risk stocking out.
  4. Consider Pricing Strategy: We mentioned above that consumers are more conscious of how they’re spending these days. There’s less discretionary spending overall and consumers are looking for deals and, in some cases, bulk options. As such, consider incorporating deals into your offers, whether it’s free shipping, first-time order discounts, referral incentives, bulk-buying discounts, etc.
  5. Adopt Contactless Payments: Of course, all online transactions are contactless, so this is a no-brainer. That said, when things start to re-open, consumers and business owners alike will likely be more cautious than usual when it comes to buying or doing business in person. Digital banks like Rho Business Banking are contactless in nature and offer features like seamless mobile payments, mobile check deposits, expense management, corporate cards, and more with no hidden fees. If you are looking to go branchless, you can open a flexible business checking account or store surplus capital with Rho’s Treasury Management Accounts, insured up to $75 million in just a few minutes.  
  6. Partner Up: Marketing your new online offers might take some effort. To make things easier, consider partnering with like-minded businesses in your industry, with other local businesses in your area, or even with online influencers that align with your brand. You could host giveaways or other special promotions together to help increase awareness and ultimately grow online sales.

The Future of Small Business and How Your Business Can Weather this Storm

The trends we’re seeing right now with small business and eCommerce will likely change both industries for the long-term. Here is what we can expect to see even after the pandemic is behind us. 

  1. eCommerce Marketing: How eCommerce businesses spread the word will change. As we’ve already seen, Google is now accepting free organic listings to the Google Shopping tab for the first time in 8 years. Google says this change is permanent, essentially opening a new marketing door for merchants who might not have the means to run all-paid marketing campaigns. Additionally, Shopify is offering its email marketing tool Shopify Email for free for the next several months. This is one example that signals a rise in email marketing for all kinds of businesses. If you’re not currently using email to market your offers, start now!
  2. More Virtual Experiences: Even though consumers are getting more comfortable buying online, there is something to be said for the personal/in-person aspect of shopping — especially for clothing, shoes, or other accessories. Retail businesses especially will have to adapt to this by offering some type of virtual experience. For example, virtual try-ons for glasses and sunglasses. 
  3. Supply Chain Transparency: Now more than ever, consumers want to trust where things are sourced and/or produced. This sentiment likely will not go away when the pandemic is over. As a result, we expect consumers to demand more transparency around how products are made and where they are sourced.
  4. Curbside/Delivery Options: While not entirely specific to eCommerce, small businesses that have started offering curbside pick-ups and contactless drop-off/deliveries (like restaurants, especially), should consider keeping these options for consumers once things return to normal. 
  5. New Online Components Won’t Be Temporary: For businesses that find success bringing their traditional small business online will likely keep their online components long-term. Not only will this bring them another revenue source, but it’ll keep them more nimble and better prepared should a major global shutdown like this ever happen again.
  6. Digital Operations: Businesses of all sizes have been learning how to fully operate online. As a result, we expect to see companies adopting more and more digital operations — especially when it comes to banking and finance. Digital business banks like Rho Business Banking will likely become more popular, allowing companies to manage all of their finances, expenses, accounts payable, etc. more efficiently and without the hassle of going to a bank branch. Not to mention online business bank accounts come with little to no fees, absolutely no hidden fees, additional business analytics, and high APY and cash back on the deposits you have anyway and the expenses you’re already paying. Schedule a demo with Rho today.

While these are just some emerging trends, we expect them to be mainstays in business. How you respond to them and/or adapt your business could make or break your long-term success — and keep you better protected from global disasters like this one.

What Now?

As things go back to normal, consumer behaviors and eCommerce trends will be different than they were six months ago. How you set your business up to manage these shifts — and keep you protected from other shifts in the future — will have a major impact on your bottom line. 

A major step in protecting your business is having reliable cash flow. Once you get your eCommerce business off the ground, be sure to check out Payability. We have a variety of financing and next-day payout options to help online sellers on Amazon and Shopify boost their cash flow so they can grow their businesses more efficiently. 

Victoria Sullivan
Victoria Sullivan is a Marketing Manager at Payability. She has over eight years of social media, copywriting and marketing experience. Prior to joining the Payability team, Victoria developed social media content and strategies for top technology brands such as Skype and Samsung. She holds a degree in Advertising from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. She can often be found in a yoga class or working on her fashion blog.

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