We are now almost 2 months into our new reality, the one defined by the novel coronavirus and accompanying disease COVID-19. We are adjusting to our “new normal” – eating all meals at home, working from home, attending school and church from home. Humankind is nothing if not resilient, and though we may be annoyed, most of us are surviving. (And our collective hearts go out to those unemployed or underemployed as a result of this awful situation.)
But the other thing people are doing more of, is shopping online. E-commerce was already a big part of our personal and business purchasing, but with stores closed, online shopping has become more important than ever.
Has your e-commerce business seen an uptick in shoppers? Or are your online sales struggling?
Over and over I hear people use the term “pivot” to refer to the need to change your business model in the COVID-19 world.
But how, exactly, do you pivot an e-commerce business? I have some ideas on the matter and I want to share them with you in hopes that it helps your business not only survive, but thrive, during 2020’s coronavirus outbreak.
Shift Your Product Lines, Even if Only Slightly
The most important change I have seen is that a shift in a store’s product offerings can make a huge difference.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you sell sporting goods, in particular, Little League-age baseball supplies. What’s more likely to be of interest right now? A travel bag that can accommodate multiple bats, or a pitching screen that can be easily set up in someone’s backyard? Well, most of your shoppers probably aren’t traveling to tournaments this spring and summer. But parents want their kids to continue to develop their skills, stay in shape, and get outside (and out of mom and dad’s earshot!) for a short while. So the sale of travel bags will probably decline, but the pitching screen may shoot right up. This business would be wise to invest its purchases in more pitching screens, but also other backyard-baseball items such as tees, rebounders, and swing trainers.
Need some more examples? These are hypothetical but should help drive home the idea.
- A toy store might focus more on family games and jigsaw puzzles, and less on pool and beach toys
- A baking supply company may not normally carry yeast, since it’s generally available in grocery stores. But yeast has been hard to find, so maybe they decide to add it to their offerings.
- A company that sells restaurant supplies may choose to focus more on gloves, hats, aprons, and janitorial supplies than they normally would, knowing their shoppers will be highly focused on restaurant and employee hygiene
Also keep in mind that while people are stuck at home, they’re looking for activities to keep themselves occupied. Stores that focus on these activities – whether it’s crafting, cookie, nail art, or books – should be able to see an increase in revenue. People now have more time for these hobbies, so if they have money to spend, there’s a good bet that that’s where it’s going.
Focus on Social Media and Email Marketing
While people are stuck at home, they’re also spending even more time online than ever before. Facebook usage has signigficantly increased, for example. It’s safe to say that people are spending a larger part of their free time surfing the web, communicating on social media, and reading emails.
That said, it’s a great time to focus your marketing efforts in these two areas. Increase the frequency of your posts on your social media platforms of choice, or maybe even start working on your account on a platform you haven’t tried before. I’m not saying you necessarily need to go spend money on ads, either. Work on your visibility – with posts and hashtags – and your engagement, by communicating with others on their posts as well as your own.
You may also want to focus on email marketing. Email is so wonderful because you truly own your customers, whereas followers on social media belong to that channel. (If Facebook suddenly closed up shop like Google+ did, and all your eggs were in the Facebook basket, then your marketing would tank!) Plus, email marketing has a much higher engagement rate than any other source.
Just use good sense and don’t overwhelm people via email or on social media. Sending 5 emails a week, or posting 25 times a day, is too much. Keep it reasonable.
Multiple Payment Methods and Easy Checkouts
Offering customers multiple ways to make payments is also a good idea.
On the one hand, while our economy is less stable, this is a time of more careful buying. But on the other hand, as people get fed up with the monotony, it can also be a time for impulse purchases. Take advantage of that by offering quick checkout and payment methods such as Apple Pay and PayPal checkout. Even Amazon payments are a great way to increase conversions.
All these methods are helpful because they allow a customer to use saved payment information and shipping/billing addresses. Sometimes, when people have to fill out a long form or jump up to retrieve their credit card from their wallet, it’s just enough time for them to talk themselves out of buying. This is what you want to avoid.
Payment methods should also include some kind of financing for larger items so that customers can spread their payments out over a longer term. Payment plans give shoppers a sense of stability when they don’t necessarily know what their job situation or economic status may be in the long run. Choices such as Bread Financing, Affirm, and Payability.
Don’t Over-Promise and Under-Deliver
I’m seeing a lot of e-commerce companies extending their order processing and shipment time, stating upfront that it will take them longer to fill orders. I’ve noticed that Amazon is tending to under-promise and over-deliver, which is a good thing. If I don’t expect my order until Friday but it shows up Wednesday, I’m extra delighted.
I think shoppers are, for the most part, understanding of the need for extra processing time. The problem happens when companies do the exact opposite from Amazon. They say it may take a week to ship, and then it takes over a month or longer. (Hey Container Store, I’m looking at you!) So you should clearly state what your current policies are during this time, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. This is not a time to alienate customers by making promises you can’t meet!
Continue – or Start – A/B Testing Your Site
It’s never a bad time to A/B test pieces of your website, but it’s even more important now. Small changes can make a big difference in your bottom line at a time when every sale is critical.
Some things you may want to test include different shipping offers, upsale options, and the display of critical information like stock levels, how long it takes you to ship items, your return policy, etc. If you’re playing with payment options as discussed above, considering if you want to split test those as well.
Even if you’re not set up for true computer-based split testing, keep trying new things during this time. Especially things that don’t cost a lot of outlay in capital or stock.
We are living in a time of rapid, forced change. People’s attitudes toward quarantine and self-isolation change on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Their motivation levels are up and down, and so are their buying habits. Keep testing, keep engaging your customers, and keep offering the best customer experience possible.
And that, my friends, is how you pivot.