Whether we want COVID-19’s feet on our coffee table or not, it’s here to stay for the time-being, so we might as well pour it a drink and get comfortable with it being in our space.
As more business owners realize that the influence of COVID-19 has settled down to stay awhile, more and more are adapting to doing business in new ways because of it. New social-distancing and self-isolation norms have dealt a sharp blow to retailers that rely on walk-in browsers, those that keep their regular customers up to date on new products on a face to face sales basis, and other businesses and services that have historically relied on face to face contact with their clients.
The touchy-feely, in-person shopping methods we are all so comfortable with is gone for the moment. From local boutiques to counselling services, everyone who relied on in-person commerce or consultation has been affected.
There is good news though. With a strong online presence and dedication to customer service, many businesses continue to thrive.
Looking at it from the consumer’s point of view, they are also frustrated by the disruption to their normal routines. Stopping in here and there on a whim is something that is no longer happening. Running to the store a few times a week for various items is also not happening. Browsing clothing or sports stores – again, not happening. But, being consumers, their desire to shop AND purchase will not be stopped.
This is where it becomes important for businesses that formerly relied solely or at least heavily on “foot traffic” to broaden their horizons by venturing into e-commerce. The good news is that e-commerce is here to stay so any investment made should pay for itself over time. There will be difficulties – staying ahead or on top of trends is not easy and figuring out staffing for readying orders can be a challenge.
But, we do have a few tips for those entering or up-scaling their e-commerce business:
Social media is important. Unlike a website, social media allows personal interaction with your customers. It helps them feel that personal touch that you would give them if they entered your business premises. It is also a powerful tool for building goodwill. If you make a donation to frontline workers, crow about it. Your reputation will skyrocket in your customers’ eyes.
Ease of curbside pick up is important. Be very clear about pick up times and how your customers should summon you when they arrive. Decide whether you will have “appointment” pick up or daily hours when your customers can drop by to pick up their order once you’ve let them know it’s ready for them.
Easy to access online portal important. If you’re going with an online shopping cart and payment method, make sure to try it out ahead of time to make sure it is easy to navigate and free of avoidable glitches.
Telephone access important. There are many people who need to connect with a voice at the other end of the line. Taking a few minutes to chat with a customer in order to properly fill their needs is something that can turn a one and done customer into a loyal regular.
Servicing curbside for those that don’t have cell phones important. Remember, there are still some folks that don’t have cell phones. Be sure to let them know that their needs will be met. If you are a busy location, you could ask that they ask someone in a neighbouring vehicle to call in for them. Or, if you are not as busy and you’re not likely to be standing in the front window to see them drive in, leave a large sign asking them to honk for service and spelling out any other social-distancing measures you have in place.
For service providers – those whose business is dependent on face to face contact – find out which online meeting platform works best for you and is easiest for clients to navigate. If your clients can’t get to the meeting easily and reliably, they will go looking elsewhere.
Communicate, communicate, communicate! Communication is the single most important aspect of successful e-commerce. Make sure you are available to meet your customers’ need to feel properly taken care of as well as their purchased items.
COVID-19 has definitely changed the way business is done, but if you are agile and forward-thinking, you might find that the business effects are not as severe as you thought they would be. Get online, stay ahead of the curve, and serve your customers to the level you would if you could see them face to face.