For a long time – too long, in many cases – businesses have been reassessing priorities, strategies, and mindsets about eCommerce as a sales channel. Some raced to become digital-first. Others barely left the starting blocks, citing reasons they felt made good business sense. There was always time to make their move.
But a few months ago, time ran out. The COVID-19 pandemic has given both B2C and B2B commerce a strong push toward eCommerce, as the online economy absorbs the offline at breakneck pace.
“We saw two years of digital transformation in two months,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, during the quarterly earnings report. Suddenly, eCommerce and the right digital strategy became critical.
In the B2C world, stores shut down, workers and customers stayed home, and offline sales came to a screeching halt. Ecommerce sales shot up, with a 49% daily increase in the United States alone, according to the Adobe Digital Index. Many retailers switched to Buy Online Pick-Up in Store (BOPIS) to meet shoppers’ needs.
Online sales of food, alcohol, electronics, and pyjamas soared. In the UK, for instance, online food shopping surged by 81%, only dropping by 1.3% the next month, indicating that many are still sticking to online grocery shopping, despite many physical stores re-opening.
In the B2B world, companies realised a digital-first approach was a must to compete. A trend to build relationships and sell directly to consumers online continues to grow. For example, later in this post we look at how Unilever moved beyond its successful B2B eCommerce platform with a B2C site. Also increasing are online marketplaces where customers can purchase hundreds of thousands of products and get fulfilment through the brand, via delivery, or in-person.
Customers everywhere are re-evaluating behaviours, preferences, and habits, especially with stay- and safer-at-home mandates and social distancing practices in effect. Once customers realise they can buy from your website or app without a hitch or watch a sales demo in a video online, they’ll continue as long as they get what they need. The lessons and experiences your customers and your business gain during the pandemic won’t be put back in the box. You can use these learnings to move forward. After you get through the worst of the lockdowns and aftermath, your business needs a long-term, strategic approach to respond to a rapidly changing world.
If you lost your in-person sales channel, whether that was the primary source of your revenue or a solid contributor, you need to adapt quickly or go out of business. eCommerce has become a critical lifeline for customers to access essential goods and services. Without it, your business is no longer relevant. But succeeding at eCommerce may call for extra effort now.
For example, the MyPillow eCommerce site experienced a traffic spike after a White House press briefing highlighting the company’s shift to making face masks for healthcare workers. Burgeoning business is a problem most companies would love to have – but managing the demand proved difficult. The company immediately migrated to a full-featured eCommerce platform. A week later, the site could handle 12,000 simultaneous visitors versus 5,000, and adding to the cart took one second or less versus thirty seconds or never.
Although your initial response to lockdowns may have included upgrading your website, your focus must now shift to creating a winning eCommerce experience.
Although the situation wrought by the pandemic is unique, every year 20% of businesses experience a disaster – and 80% fail soon after. As part of a long-term business continuity plan, your company must develop and fine-tune your eCommerce site. Your site should support self-service account management, product research, purchase and reorder, and data to manage customer relationships and the supply chain. A B2B site should graft on B2C features, such as greater usability and transparency around inventory and pricing.
FoodServiceDirect Inc., part of the Unilever foodservice division, had already launched a successful B2B eCommerce platform in September 2018, with sales and new customer acquisitions each increasing 40%. But the company had the foresight to also build a B2C website for consumers who prefer to buy in bulk. That resulted in a sales explosion after restaurants and schools closed in March 2020. B2C sales now account for 45% of FoodServiceDirect eCommerce sales, compared to 25% pre-pandemic.
From customer-facing operations to fulfilment and inventory management, every activity around your eCommerce site should be upgraded to improve efficiency and expand functionality.
Your customers are impacted by the pandemic on personal, professional, and financial levels. In response, your business needs to embody trust and empathy.
Start by ensuring your eCommerce site sets the right tone. When the world is changing at 2020 speed, you need to review your site every month. Massage your text and imagery for current conditions. Post updated videos of your CEO that show you comprehend the difficulties customers are experiencing and explain how you’re working through challenges to support them.
Provide extensive product information and self-help resources, including FAQs. Evergreen self-service content can help thousands of customers, without the need for your customer service staff to intervene. Chat can answer common questions, even if you use a bot that hands off complex queries to live agents. Engage customers via email, social media, and other channels as well.
Remember that building strong relationships and long-term loyalty depends on how well you personalise these communications based on insights from the data you gather.
Consumers’ buying habits will not shift back to normal – ever. To prepare for the new normal and continue to manage economic uncertainty, you need to build the best possible digital experience, one that rivals or exceeds your in-person capabilities. With that, you can interact successfully with customers even when the physical world shuts down.
A good starting point? Consult our business continuity checklist to ensure your company stays up and running – and selling – no matter what.