The Benefits of eCommerce: How Selling Online is Helping Businesses Survive COVID-19
While some areas of the United States have begun re-opening, restrictions make it difficult for retailers to return to “normal” operations. At the same time other regions remain on lock-down, allowing only essential businesses to remain open. The effect has proven devastating to companies selling primarily through traditional distribution channels and/or brick-and-mortar stores.
But for digital enterprises, mass shutdowns have had largely the opposite effects. With people in their homes more, consumers have turned to eCommerce platforms and marketplaces to buy goods. The effect is twofold: businesses with an online presence are seeing an unprecedented spike in sales that not only benefit them right now but may allow them to capture customers long-term. Meanwhile, businesses without storefront or marketplace connections are finding themselves behind the eight-ball, to say the least.
Catching up might seem overwhelming, especially given the circumstances, but that’s not a reason to shy away from eCommerce. In fact, getting started with eCommerce right now can not only give your business what it needs to survive, but give you the platform you’ll need to succeed long into the future.
So, how much more are people actually buying online? According to the latest data from Salesforce, Q1 of 2020 saw a 20% growth in revenue from digital commerce, compared to Q1 of 2019. Digital traffic has gone up 16%, and online sales from the quarter outpaced holiday shopping, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales from fall 2019.
Research from Bluecore mirrors the Salesforce findings, revealing an increase in online purchases across all business models and industry verticals, not only in a year-over-year comparison between April 2019 and April 2020, but also a month-over-month comparison of February (pre-shutdown) and April (mid-shutdown).
How eCommerce Helps
Café Ladro is just one of many TrueCommerce customers who wanted to expand their sales presence with an online storefront. While they already operated 16 retail cafes successfully, the coffee roaster wanted to reach more customers, and operate their B2B and B2C sales from a single storefront. Within just a few months of getting started, the company saw a 400% increase in sales!
Along with coffee, wineries have recently seen an explosion in online interest, especially as some states have limited or even closed liquor stores. For L. Mawby Winery, online selling offers multiple benefits. In addition to a 300% increase in sales their first year, the winery can ship wine direct-to-consumers from website orders, making it easy to maintain social distancing while keeping sales up. The company’s online wine club entices wine lovers to receive regular shipments, as well as exclusive deals, creating a loyal fan base and more reliable monthly sales.
If inventory is running low, an eCommerce store can also enable allocation settings to limit customer purchase volumes. Plus, by integrating their online customer data with their in-house systems, they can use customer profiles to help in-store shoppers find the wines that best suit their tastes when the tasting room reopens!
Of course, the benefits of eCommerce go even further. Here are a few more ways eCommerce can help your business right now, and as we move forward:
Mitigate the Impact of Retail Closures
Last month, a poll from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Metlife concluded that more than 50% of SMBs in the country had been temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the country may be looking to reopen, millions of businesses may not be able to recover existing and ongoing losses from a lack of foot traffic.
eCommerce gives your business the sales boost it needs when your doors are closed, enabling your business to stay healthy until you can reopen. This is especially important for small businesses with loyal, local followings, who want to continue to support their favorite stores, even during quarantine.
Take Advantage of a Growing Market Space
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, eCommerce was a rapidly evolving market space. In fact, online sales have been outpacing retail growth for the past few years. Digital Commerce 360 reports that back in 2007, eCommerce accounted for just 5.6% of retail purchases. By 2017, that number had risen to 13.2%, and jumped to 16% by the end of 2019. Overall, eCommerce sales have been growing at about 14-16% per year since 2015—while retail sales have only been growing about 4% per year.
That exponential growth has only been aided by the pandemic, as new customers discover the ease and convenience of ordering online while stuck at home. Of course, this doesn’t mean we are entering the final stages of the retail apocalypse. But it does mean that companies engaging online have a huge advantage over those who rely solely on in-store sales.
Engage with New Customers
Selling online eliminated the limitations of local foot traffic, enabling business owners to easily connect with customers from anywhere. This means that even small, locally owned businesses can see their products gain visibility and popularity on a national scale, giving them vastly increased sales opportunities.
Online marketplaces like Amazon have an already loyal fanbase; in fact, more product searches start on Amazon than on Google. You can also use your own storefront to find new customers through social media, search engine optimization, and paid search and display ads! Let’s put it this way: in 2019, an estimated 1.92 billion people around the world made purchases online, including more than 227 million Americans.
What You Need for eCommerce Success
Being successful online isn’t as easy as creating an Amazon seller profile or creating a storefront. You’ll need to create a great shopping experience for users to thrive in the eCommerce space. So, what constitutes a fantastic online shopping experience? Your online strategy and process should include:
- Accurate and up-to-date product information. This is especially important when it comes to inventory availability; no one wants to order a product to then be told it’s out of stock!
- Expected Delivery Dates. Like inventory availability, this is an important way to keep customers informed, and can help them plan their orders based on when they need products by.
- Helpful shopping features. Related product and search suggestions, frequently purchased items, and clear sales and promotion information let consumers find new products they’ll love.
- User-friendly shopping carts. Visible shopping carts help customers keep track of their order contents, while tax and shipping calculators as well as delivery options, help reduce cart abandonment rates and capture sales.
- Rapid fulfillment. Today’s consumers are used to platforms like Amazon and Walmart offering free 2-day or even same-day delivery. Make sure you set appropriate delivery timeframes, and send customers tracking and delivery updates to keep them in-the-know.
eCommerce integration and automation software help ensure a great shopping experience without requiring a ton of manual effort. For example, a product information management solution lets you update product content and inventory availability across multiple marketplaces and your web storefront from one portal. eCommerce integrations with your business system can trigger automatic confirmation emails, tracking detail emails and order updates for customers. And data automation brings orders directly to your business systems, so you can quickly process orders and meet tight delivery timeframes.
Choosing the Right eCommerce Platform
There are dozens of eCommerce platforms available online, so it’s important to do your research and find the right solution for your business. Here are a few things to consider when looking at an eCommerce storefront option:
- Customization and Flexibility. Some eCommerce stores are easy and fast to set up but have limited features that may not meet your unique business needs. Likewise, super-customized options are sometimes hindered by long lead times and complications when it comes to changing or updating features. Finding an eCommerce solution that balances flexible features and easy updates is key.
- Customer Type Options. If you sell both B2B and B2C, it’s important to find a platform that can support both from the same storefront. Volume-based pricing and customer-type pricing can help further segment customers, making it easy to sell to a variety of retailers, manufacturers and individual consumers.
- Security and PCI compliance. This is critical to protecting your customers and your business. Make sure that any platform you use is fully PCI level 1 compliant and takes security even more seriously than you do.
TrueCommerce Nexternal’s eCommerce platform offers a flexible, scalable, and integrated solution with a rapid implementation time that lets you get started with eCommerce fast and ensure ongoing success online. To learn more, check out our eCommerce Marketing Guide, or reach out to one of our eCommerce specialists.
The benefits of eCommerce were evident even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, between retail closures and a leap in online shopping usage, eCommerce offers not only a way to stabilize your business but also gain a competitive edge that will long outlast the virus. Whether you’re looking to supplement in-person sales, expand your customer base or enhance the shopping experience for existing customers, eCommerce can help you achieve your business goals with the click of a button.
About the Author: Craig Ross is the VP of Sales for the TrueCommerce Nexternal eCommerce Platform. He has been on the Nexternal team for over 20 years and has been involved with the evolution of eCommerce from its infancy. Craig lives in Redding, Connecticut, and in addition to eCommerce, he is passionate about cycling, motorsports, skiing, and music.