E-commerce has been an important part of business success for many years. It helps companies reach potential customers outside of regular business hours and outside of their normal geographic limitations. It provides an opportunity for people to shop from the comfort of their own homes, on their own schedule, and make informed decisions.
It gives potential customers - who many never had the chance to experience your company’s products or services - a way to connect with you around the clock and around the globe.
BUT COVID-19, ALSO KNOWN AS THE CORONAVIRUS, AMPLIFIED THOSE NEEDS TO THE EXTREME.
With millions of people heading into self-quarantine or self-isolation, essential business hours being reduced and non-essential businesses being forced to close, as well as work from home orders being issued; businesses with a solid E-commerce presence were able to maintain a steady flow of customers and revenue. However, those who relied solely on a brick and mortar, retail storefront presence suffered.
Even healthy customers who were not required to self-isolate or self-quarantine were wary about facing the crowds at local stores during the early months of 2020. Surfaces became suspect. Sales staff were potential contamination points. Even opening doors became a frightening concept.
But there is nothing frightening about browsing product offerings from the safety of your own home, and that’s where e-commerce enabled companies succeeded where many others failed.
By the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, many stores sat closed or empty. However, grocery pickup slots were booked for days in advance. Amazon started prioritizing deliveries to make sure that the essentials were delivered first. Gift Cards were flying off the virtual shelves as a way to support local businesses during a difficult time.
Even though fulfillment became a challenge due to some of the same labour restrictions, most e-commerce enabled companies were able to maintain a steady flow of product out the door and a steady flow of income to support the business needs until life – and business – went back to normal.
DIGITAL CAPABILITIES ALSO IMPROVED COMMUNICATIONS DURING A DIFFICULT TIME
Even if you take the retail sales out of the equation, companies with a solid digital footprint were able to communicate better with their customers about the steps they were taking to protect their customers, the company’s employees, and the communities they served.
Emails were delivered to update customers about store hours and restrictions. Customer safety concerns were alleviated by detailing the additional precautions that were being taken to safeguard public health.
Although some people complained about receiving emails from every single retailer they had ever purchased from that detailed their Covid-19 action plan, others were relieved that steps were being taken to safeguard everyone involved.
Without that digital presence, much of this information would have been difficult to distribute, which would have led to continued confusion.
E-COMMERCE AVAILABILITY HELPED CUSTOMERS THROUGH THE CRISIS
This not only helped the companies generate ongoing revenue, but also provided much-needed products and services to people who were stranded in their homes for weeks at a time.
From groceries, to books, to cleaning supplies, people were able (for the most part) to get the products they needed to ride out the crisis. This made a huge difference in the lives of everyday people and helped build a dedicated customer base who will remember how those companies assisted them during a difficult time.
Plus, it helped many who were worried about the proximity issues that are inherent with large crowds to avoid the throngs of panic shoppers who were stocking up on products before and during the crisis.
BUT IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT EMERGENCIES
Although being e-commerce capable during a crisis is important, being e-commerce capable adds value to every business, all the time.
The average person is willing to drive 0.7 miles to get to a store or a mall. The geographic restriction of a retail storefront severely limits the reach of any local retailer, no matter how fantastic their products may be. Add to that the issue of store hours, which usually cuts out anywhere from 30% to 50% of the available shopping time.
In today’s day and age, people want to be able to shop where and when they choose to do so. This is evident in the fact that e-commerce retail sales in Canada reached nearly $44 billion in 2018 and are expected to surpass $108 billion by 2023.
To really showcase that point, a recently study by Statistica showed that 75.2% of the Canadian population purchased goods and services online in 2019.
Add the amount of people currently purchasing products and services online to the amount of people who would like to purchase from you but can’t due to location or store hour restrictions, and that equals an opportunity no business can afford to ignore. Even in the best of times.
BECOMING E-COMMERCE ENABLED IS EASIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
Luckily, in today’s age of digitization, becoming e-commerce enabled is no longer limited to large companies who can invest millions of dollars to develop a customized product, order, and fulfillment platform.
Tools such as Shopify allow retailers and wholesalers – large and small – to create a virtual version of their product offerings so that they can be purchased day and night, in good times and in bad.