Small business retailers are facing an unprecedented financial crisis caused by COVID-19. According to Retail Dive, the estimated that total foot traffic to US retailers is down about 30% year over year as of the second week of August. As a result, many businesses are focusing on their online stores to continue serving customers in the new normal. But as with most things, there’s a way to do e-commerce the right way.
Best practices for logistics
Customers now expect to see policies and processes in place that prevent the spread of COVID-19 through safe shipping and handling. Here are some ordering and delivery operations best practices to think about:
Practice safe packing methods. The WHO and CDC have not found any cases of transmission via packages. Customers appreciate any extra effort from businesses who take time to be extra cautious. If employees are packing products for shipment, wear face masks and gloves. It’s also helpful to post a public statement on your website and social media accounts explaining how your business is taking steps to make each shipment as safe as possible.
Update your returns policy. State health guidelines may be preventing your customers from visiting and handling your product in-person before they buy. “This shift will mean more returns, due to the limitations of shopping online and the way people shop, which often involves ‘bracketing,’ or buy to try, buying multiples of size, color … with the intention of keeping their favorite and returning the rest,” Happy Returns CEO David Sobie told CNBC. By updating your returns policy, your business can account for an increased number of returns.
Increased returns can drive up your costs, waste packaging, and increase the health risk to delivery drivers and your employees. On the other hand, customers will remember generous policies during difficult times, which may translate into greater loyalty. Some retailers are lengthening their return window to allow shoppers more time. Try to find a balance between being generous to customers while factoring in your ROI and labor costs.
Set up order fulfillment and labor. It may make sense to partner with a fulfillment center to help manage your shipping and delivery. Fulfillment centers bring expertise, larger space for storing inventory and quicker delivery times. Whiplash, Fulfillify, and ShipBob are all e-commerce fulfillment centers worth exploring.
Understandably, fulfillment partners are usually more expensive than shipping and packing products yourself. If your volume of e-commerce orders is manageable, you might do just fine with having your staff fulfill them.
One note on fulfillment: because nothing is easy in a pandemic, there are some challenges to doing fulfillment safely. Distancing requirements, logistics of delivering packing supplies to your team members, and inventory management are all a little more complicated during this time.
Calculate your shipping costs. Factor in costs for packaging and delivery and decide which delivery carrier to use. Some carriers are offering free packaging during this time. Many are also offering scheduled pickups from your location. Review the policies of the main carriers here:
Make sure to communicate with your customers as your delivery operation evolves. Manage expectations around shipping delays and arrival times. Consider encouraging customers to purchase more than your average ticket value by offering free shipping for orders above that threshold.
Marketing your ecommerce site
As COVID-19 continues to shift the way businesses operate, consider broadening your focus from meeting the needs of your existing customers to include new e-commerce sales. If you’re just starting to market your e-commerce site, experts recommend spending time on two things: identifying your audience and positioning your product.
“The more you know about your audience, the easier it becomes for you to create compelling marketing materials,” says The Blueprint. “This is why creating a buyer persona is an important step before you even start marketing your products. With it, you have a solid grasp of who your audiences are and what makes them tick.” Once you have identified a buyer persona, you can learn more about how to best position your business online.
People are shopping from home more than ever before. There’s an opportunity to grow sales through your e-commerce site and here are some ways to get started.
Make your e-commerce shop visible. If you’re adding e-commerce to your existing website, have you made your new channel prominent and easy to find from your homepage? Are you linking to it from your social media channels, in your email newsletter and on sites like Yelp, Google Business and Pointy? Utilize as many customer touchpoints as possible to signal you’re still open for online business.
Optimize your site for higher traffic. If your site feels clunky and hard to navigate, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to maintain sales during this time. It’s important to make sure that customers can find your site and that it’s easy to navigate. Think carefully about the user experience, organize product listings in an intuitive way and consult with your staff and customers for more perspectives on how to streamline your website experience.
Use high-quality images. As you work to optimize your site, use product images. Professional photography across your site can make a huge difference in the shopper experience. The images shown on your site should not only be enticing, but they should be consistent with your overall store design. If your shop is stark and industrial, use dramatic lighting. If your aesthetic is more approachable, make sure the lighting is warm and inviting.
Create unique content. With less or non-existent foot traffic, how can you keep your employees busy? Some retailers have started offering curated subscription boxes with customer favorites and complementary products that they’re hoping will become more popular. Create a video preview of what’s going into each subscription box on your social pages, and have your team get creative with your content. For example, the skincare brand, Glossier, launched Glossier Live Edit. This video chat program allows Glossier team members to host 1:1 chats with customers about skincare routines and products.
Sustain your business through customer loyalty
Your e-commerce site is now your primary tool for selling to existing customers. And, since existing customers are the core of any business, how can you make sure they’re still being served by your e-commerce site?
Encourage repeat purchases. If your customer is likely to buy your product on a repeat basis, make automatic reorders easy. Give a small discount for subscribing to regular refills and let the customer set their preferred refill cadence.
Decrease shopping cart abandonment. The average global rate of cart abandonment—when customers add items to their online cart but never click purchase—is just over 75%. That’s a huge missed opportunity for many retailers.
Some simple changes to the shopping and checkout process can help you lower cart abandonment rates. Create urgency by showing stock availability: when an item is running low, a casual browser may become a buyer much faster. Set up an automatic email that is triggered when a customer leaves something in their cart. One report found that of the 45% of “cart abandoned” emails that are opened, 50% of them receive click-throughs, and 50% of those click-throughs result in completed purchases.
Other ecommerce tactics
There are many ways to encourage customers to shop at your e-commerce site. Some retailers offer a gift with purchases over a certain amount. Whether or not you’re able to give discounts during this time is unique to each retailer; we know times are tough, and so do customers.
Another great way to build customer loyalty is to motivate customer account creation with a loyalty program that encourages repeat buying. Give a small discount off a customer’s first order if they create an account. Alternately, you could offer a first-time buyer discount code in a pop-up that invites new visitors to sign up for your email list. In this case, everyone wins. You get a customer’s email while the customer gets a discount.
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