A New Landscape for Ecommerce
Merely days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic, businesses were already seeing how their normal operations got disrupted. That was especially true for brick and mortar stores that depended on foot traffic – but not exclusive to them. In fact, even online businesses were impacted by the Coronavirus.
True, the impact was disproportionate. There were big winners, including big names such as Amazon and Walmart, and there were losers, mostly small businesses or companies dedicated to negatively affected industries. Yet, both winners and losers were affected by social distancing and stay-at-home measures adopted worldwide.
The only way to do business during the pandemic is to be online, which forces companies to revise their ecommerce strategies and processes – or create one from scratch. As the pandemic raged on, businesses faced the fact that COVID-19 accelerated a process already happening for some time: the increase in online shopping.
In that way, we can say that the Coronavirus is reshaping the way we all do business, changing the ecommerce landscape for good. After the virus recedes, everything will change, from the kinds of products that are sold online to the majority of people’s shopping habits. Wonder how that looks? Let’s review some of the major trends we’re seeing in ecommerce today that can be traced back directly to the pandemic.
The impact Coronavirus had on global logistics was one of the first ones that everyone experienced firsthand is. Since the whole world came to a halt almost overnight, the transportation of goods from manufacturers to consumers suffered greatly. That led to shortages of all kinds, starting from medical supplies and ending in things as varied (and bizarre) as freezers, jigsaw puzzles, condoms, and blood.
With logistics significantly impaired, online stores started to see their collateral effects. The first one was the impossibility of offering those products to their customers. But then, there were also the price gouging practices, the shipping delays, and the increase in online traffic and, ultimately, in the sales volume.
All of those phenomena came to show that the ecommerce industry wasn’t ready for such a vertiginous growth over such a brief period. Even the biggest online store in the world, Amazon, struggled to deliver groceries or to deter sellers from inflating prices of products they were offering through the platform. Ecommerce companies big and small were overwhelmed by the sudden demand while customers were highly unhappy because of the shortages and delays.
As weeks went by, the biggest names in the industry (Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and Aliexpress, to name a few) adjusted their internal practices and procedures to guarantee the right processing of all purchases while trying to secure stock. All of those went hand-in-hand with changes in the consumers’ behavior and expectations surrounding the online shopping experience (more on that below).
Such changes in standard procedures will likely stick after the pandemic is gone. The investments made to accommodate increased traffic, streamline the shopping experience, keep price gouging in check, and safely deliver the goods to the customer will enjoy the adjustments made during this dire time and provide a basis for better platforms in the future.
Businesses that were already online had to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate the new demands and the customers, sure. But there were plenty of other companies that hadn’t any online presence whatsoever and that felt forced to adapt to survive.
The most evident example of this is how a trove of restaurants adopted curbside service, pick-up windows, and delivery as their primary service. Thus, instead of offering the traditional dining experience, restaurants went online to sell their food and dishes. That process was far from smooth, though. The logistics made it hard to source certain ingredients and determine the proper amount to acquire.
The food industry wasn’t the only one that had to adapt to survive. Other “typically offline” businesses that also went online include gyms, independent record stores, and hair salons. All of those used their creativity to come up with related products or services they could sell online, be them fitness classes or wigs.
Business changes didn’t just happen for “offline” companies that were forced to find an online alternative. Online stores and services also found that the Coronavirus pandemic offered them the opportunity to expand their offerings or change the nature of what they were already providing.
You can take Tulu as an example. The platform has always offered rental-in-place appliances for people that didn’t want to buy them. Since the pandemic hit, they added selling to their model. But they aren’t selling appliances – they are offering products that might go with the rented appliance, such as thread with a sewing machine or tomato sauce with a pasta maker.
Then there’s the need for online businesses to adapt to the consumer demands for products that were typically purchased online. New insights by SEMRush show that people are searching to buy online for things like kettlebells and bread makers (with the notable mention of bidets as one of the products that experienced a massive spike in online searches). Thus, companies had to improve their catalogs to meet all those demands.
As you can see, the Coronavirus pandemic is forcing companies to get on board with the online shopping trends, be it through the adoption of complementary services or the conversion of their core business model. It’s unlikely that these changes will be reversed as the pandemic recedes since people will have gotten accustomed to buying certain products online, and some companies will make those business shifts permanent.
Finally, there’s how people have changed their buying habits. With most businesses closed and quarantine in place all over the world, it was only natural for people to go online to buy whatever they needed. What happened with Amazon just as the pandemic got to the US is enough to prove the enormous increase of online shoppers. Last March, the platform hit 2.54 billion visitors, a whopping 65% increase over the same period the previous year.
Behind such numbers hides the fact that many people that weren’t used to buying online started doing so during their stay-at-home periods. In other words, more people are shopping online than ever. This phenomenon shows another notorious trend – the rise of online grocery shopping.
Social distancing, dealing with lines and the potential risk that comes with it, and inventory shortages have deterred people from going to grocery stores. Thus, online grocery shopping is thriving with as much as 41% of people doing so saying that they were using a grocery delivery service for the first time.
You could argue that the rise of online grocery shopping is only due to social restrictions and the fear that comes out from getting infected with the disease. While that may be true, a comfortable shopping experience might change grocery shopping for good and turn it into an online thing even in the post-pandemic world. Sure, there will be people that will return to stores, mainly because they like to pick their groceries in person. But there’s the opinion that the whole supermarket experience won’t be the same after this and that these changing habits might stick as well.
Albeit on a smaller scale, other fields might follow. People can get used to purchasing car parts, home decor, and appliances online. If technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality expand throughout the online retail world, that feels like a probable scenario where people won’t be bothered to come to the store to buy something they could purchase via their phones.
What You Should Do Now
The Coronavirus pandemic is truly reshaping ecommerce as we know it. From the internal processes needed to run a proper online store at full swing to the consumers’ habits and expectations around it, ecommerce won’t be the same from now on. But what does that mean for you? Well, it certainly depends on where you’re standing and whether your products or services can be sold online or not. If they don’t, then you probably can set up an online shop with items related to your main activity and maintain it as a side hustle after all this passes.
But if you can sell your products online, then there are two possibilities for you. First, you may already have an ecommerce platform, in case you can go through the following things:
- Update your entire online presence. This means that your online store should have the latest information about how you operate during the pandemic, how you handle payments, how many days it takes for shipping, and the products you offer, among other things. Your ecommerce store should display all that, but don’t forget to spread that data across your other channels, from social media to emails and your Google My Business page.
- Optimize your product pages. This deserves special attention, as optimizing your product pages will provide more precise messages to your customers while also working towards your SEO efforts. So, you should adjust the copy to improve your rankings and enhance your pages with pictures and (if possible) videos to showcase your products better. You should also test and adjust the checkout process to make it as streamlined and smooth as possible. And then, you should also see that your inventory display and shipping calculators are in top shape. All of that will ensure an excellent experience for your customers, that will want to keep shopping with you.
- Use multiple channels: if you only have your ecommerce store and a Facebook page, it’s the time to branch out and cover more channels. Adopting more platforms will increase your visibility and will make sure you find your customers wherever they are. Thus, consider using Instagram and Twitter. Besides, if you aren’t just reselling products from others, you can set up shop in marketplaces like Amazon and eBay to multiply your exposure. Don’t bite more than what you can chew, though – it’s better to focus on a handful of platforms and do it right rather than trying to be everywhere and failing miserably.
- Offer new products and services: the new consumer habits brought by the pandemic will likely stick with us, which may open new business opportunities for your store. Be sure to be on the lookout for them in whatever form they can be. This may shift your business model or mean an improvement in your product catalog to reach the now favorites in the realm of online shopping.
While most of those things might feel like adjustments to fight off the Coronavirus pandemic’s impact, the truth is that they can have long-lasting effects on your online business. You won’t be alone in the changes you might embrace to fight off the pandemic’s influence. Most online companies will carry out some or all of the above and, by doing it, reshape the future of ecommerce.
We mentioned another possibility for people that can sell their products online: the fact that you aren’t selling them through ecommerce just yet. Maybe you own a bookstore or hardware store, and you always relied on in-store sales to make a profit, so you never had to look into the ecommerce world. Well, here’s your chance! Here are some of the first steps you can take to keep your business running:
- Go online, even if you don’t have that many products you can sell through the internet. By being there, you increase your visibility and might find new customers that may want to do business with you. You can start by creating a website and expand into an online store section later on. You can use this new digital space to tell your own story, get your products in front of the right people, and even foster future business for your physical store through gift cards and contests.
- Look for your customers where they are: since you’ll be a newcomer to the online business, you need to maximize the chances of encountering your audience. You can do so by leveraging established marketplaces that feel like a perfect fit for your products. Platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Google Shopping, to name a few, are ideal places to start, as they have a lot of traffic to stumble across your catalog.
- Educate yourself and adjust as you go: though companies with years in the ecommerce world seem to dominate the entire industry, the truth is that there’s plenty of space for everyone to make a profit in the online world. The only caveat is that you need to work every day to improve what you offer. You’ll have to learn everything there is to know about digital marketing, SEO, and ecommerce logistics. What’s more, as this pandemic is showing us, the ecommerce world isn’t static and can change at a moment’s notice, so you have to make this learning process an ongoing effort to reach the forefront.
The True Age of Ecommerce
Though online shopping isn’t precisely a new phenomenon, the reality shows us that a lot of people were outside of it and are now starting to embrace it. Thus, the pandemic might have ushered us into the real age of ecommerce, where most of our purchases are made through online channels, all aided with new and exciting technologies.
The shifts in logistics and business models and the new consumer habits are undoubtedly impacting Ecommerce today. Still, it’s hard to predict where it all will end, even once the COVID-19 is no longer a threat. However, this isn’t an excuse to sit and wait to see how it all plays out. The pandemic is forcing businesses into a reactive stance that demands changes to all companies, which will surely outlast the virus.
Even when there’s the hope to return to “normal life”, the Coronavirus has disrupted our societies in such a way that there may not be a “normal life” to return to. Instead, there appears to be a new normal life waiting for us on the horizon, and it seems like ecommerce will play a massive role in it. Thus, you can’t afford to be left out. Only by strategically adopting the changes right now you’d be better prepared for whatever comes in the future.