COVID-19 & The Shift To E-Commerce

Walmart truck leaving a fulfillment center

The spread of COVID-19 has brought serious changes to retail and accelerated a trend that's been in the works since companies like Amazon and eBay created an online alternative to the traditional brick-and-mortar shop. With lockdowns forcing non-essential businesses to close and quarantines keeping people at home, online shopping has seen a massive increase. E-commerce has seen a jump up to 25% of U.S. retail sales compared to 15% from last year according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

This is a trend I've been following not only through the news but directly through clients who have seen record sales in March, April, and continuing into May. Comparing the sales in these months this year to the previous year has shown that it's not a temporary uptick but a result of customers first being forced to shop online, then becoming comfortable shopping online. It's quite likely that many of the behaviors and trends reflected will continue beyond the pandemic. This has put companies in a position to consider what place e-commerce will have for them and what their strategy will be going forward in order to make the online business an equal or dominant part of their business plans.

There are numerous facets to successfully growing business online. There are obvious overlaps with traditional retail businesses but due to the nature of e-commerce, some components have greater weight. Content is vital to getting the best performance online, because customers rely on the imagery and descriptions provided to base their shopping decisions. Customer service, from shipping metrics to first contact resolution, helps create a strong reputation and confidence in customers especially when it garners positive reviews.

The golden ticket however comes down to your marketing strategy, which fuels most of the sales activity online. Unlike a store, you want to target customers with products they'll likely be inclined to purchase at first glance as they won't practice the same shopping behavior. There are no aisles of products for them to view and the purchase window is much narrower due to the variety of choices they have in terms of competitor products. Even when looking at a product they like, the attention to the descriptions will be limited and certain keywords will have sway them into adding the product into the cart and checking out. The ability to easily shop from multiple sites, compare prices, and little pressure to commit to a purchase, since they haven't stepped physically into a store and thus psychologically dedicated their time, means your marketing strategy will determine how well you sell.

In conclusion, I strongly recommend businesses begin to consider what e-commerce can do for their bottom line and begin developing strategies to adopt online marketplaces into their overall operations. It's something I emphasize to our current clients and potential clients when working with them to design their e-commerce strategies. The potential for success is there and COVID-19 has brought in more customers to consider online marketplaces as an equal to shopping at the stores.

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