No one would dispute that the pandemic has changed the way we shop. Online purchase contributed 19% of all UK retail sales in 2019 but 30% in 2020, directly because of the pandemic. Ecommerce makes shopping simple, easy and safer for customers.
What is more interesting is the impact on business. Because of the pandemic, people who had never shopped online before 2020 are now happy to pay for all kinds of goods and services online. In fact, research by UNCTAD (United Nations Council on Trade and Development) suggests that online purchase has increased by 6 – 10% across all products worldwide.
Which sectors are benefiting from eCommerce in the pandemic?
But the winners from the Covid-19 eCommerce explosion may not be those you would expect. The sectors making the biggest gains around the world from selling online via an eCommerce website include ICT/electronics and gardening together with personal care businesses and food and drink. And as more businesses take advantage of Britain’s engaged online buying community, small to medium enterprises can only benefit.
Move to online shopping is a permanent change
At the same time it’s worth asking the question – will this change last? It’s tempting to believe that life will go back to normal once vaccines are widely distributed meaning an increased focus on eCommerce wouldn’t be necessary for SMEs. However, most respondents to the UNCTAD survey mentioned above said they would continue to shop online after the pandemic was over. So, even when we are able to get back to shopping in person, there will be an expectation for businesses to have an online offer.
A crucial moment
For small to medium-sized businesses in the UK, this represents an important moment. 49% of small businesses don’t even have a website, let alone an eCommerce offer. This means that they run the risk of missing out on crucial new revenues moving forward. Even before the pandemic, not having a website and not being able to push sales online had been linked to an average of more than £32,000 lost to a business per year. But as more people buy online, the potential for lost revenue is greater, both for B2B and B2C businesses, since eCommerce sites are becoming more popular platforms for shopping.
Is it too late to set up an eCommerce website?
The good news is that it’s never too late to set up an eCommerce site and the speed to get up and running is much faster than it was even two years ago. Shop-building technologies such as Shopify and WooCommerce put powerful and scaleable e-commerce offerings within the reach of small businesses. They also enable seamless integration with most sales management systems and ways to manage stock online, as well as offering a huge range of options when it comes to processing payments like Paypal, Apple pay and Sage pay among others.
What are the key considerations for launching an eCommerce offer?
There are three key considerations for your eCommerce offer:-
1. Agency or self-service?
This is the most important consideration. If you decide to create your eCommerce site yourself then you will need to factor in time for your staff to design and build your eCommerce store. You’ll need to be sure that person has the time and technical capabilities to set up the store correctly, source the product descriptions, craft compelling copy and prep imagery to ensure a positive overall user experience, as well as consider the ongoing marketing picture of how you’re going to make the store really deliver results for you.
If you decide to engage an agency then you are likely to launch your eCommerce offer faster, as well as benefiting from their experience and expertise to understand what works for your sector and audiences. An agency will also bring a more professional look and feel and a smoother user experience design. This is crucial in reassuring your new and existing customers that your brand can be trusted, and that their orders and payments will be safely and securely processed. Without this kind of security, you may start to see issues around cart abandonment. Overall, working with an agency becomes more of a creative process, where you can focus on your brand and product offers, not the technical details of designing and building a store.
2. Does your eCommerce site reflect your brand?
After the pandemic, the connection between your online and offline brand is more important than ever. Customers are now used to relating to you in both spaces and so they expect you to look and behave the same in both. For example, if you use formal and restrained language in your shopping space you shouldn’t suddenly be wacky and informal in your eCommerce site copy. Your brand identity, your values, the tone of voice in your copy, should all translate from your offline shop to your online shop. In this way, you will build loyalty and generate sales both digitally and in real life.
In addition, a direct link between your offline and online shopping experience is extremely important for brand building and for driving additional purchase. Customers have been spoiled with the many ways they can interact with brands throughout the pandemic and now expect to find you where they are – from Instagram to Pinterest and from your own eCommerce site to aggregation platforms like Amazon or NotontheHighStreet. Working closely with an agency means your brand is consistent not only in look and feel but also in experience across multiple platforms.
3. Delivery or click and collect?
How are you going to fulfil your orders? It is possible to start with one option-click and collect for example – and then expand, but we guarantee that there will be customers interested in taking delivery at home. Many platforms offer a variety of useful solutions that mean there is no need to set up a delivery arm until you are ready. Whether you’re a niche business with a small product range or have a wider business offer with delivery already set up nationally or globally, there’s an eCommerce solution that can drive growth for you.
4. How will you maintain your eCommerce site?
It’s not only about taking the orders and managing dispatch and delivery. A successful eCommerce offer keeps content fresh because that’s how you continue to attract customers to both your online and offline shop. A launch and leave policy means your site will quickly look dated and fail to attract visitors. Assigning one member of staff to either work with your agency or manage a content plan themselves will make sure the search engines continue to send traffic your way.
But remember that you will need a marketing strategy and the ability to deliver it, in order to drive new audiences, keep you front of mind and link your eCommerce experience with key selling moments throughout the year. And that’s where an agency can really add value, working with you and the site ongoing to strategise growth, drive the right traffic and optimise the site. Many eCommerce agencies you work with on the delivery will also offer this, and because they know your brand and your store inside-out, they will be able to present different options that make it affordable and efficient and create that roadmap to success.