Economically, socially and emotionally crisis situations challenge humanity. For a small and midsized business caught in the middle of COVID 19, the last three months would have been a roller coaster. For some, it would have provided unexpected opportunities for progress that was not available earlier.
COVID 19 has changed the way people buy and sell things. Stepping out to buy things has become challenging and buying online has become safer. People who were occasional online shoppers are turning more and more towards online shopping. Louis Columbus in his April post in Forbes talks about an incredible 146% growth in all online retail orders Y/Y in the US and Canada.
Changes in attitudes and habits that might have taken years to form might be happening in a matter of weeks, thanks to the pandemic. Those not used to online buying are exploring the possibility and are visiting with that intention. Online visitors are quickly becoming buyers. The trend holds steady across many retail categories that are registering what Udayan Bose calls, “abnormally high numbers”.
Predictably Food and Grocery have dominated the trend with fantastic growth followed by Home Furnishings. The apparel category which got off to a slow start has gained momentum after the release of stimulus checks in mid-April. Bose notes that sales are still fluctuating “off and on, but I’m fairly positive apparel will sustain this robust growth trend.” The triple-digit growth in different categories reflects the buying pattern for some time to come. The demand has calmed down a bit towards the end of this quarter. But it remains a clear indicator for small businesses in the mentioned categories.
For small businesses that are not registering this kind of growth, it is a warning that they are not tapping their potential. For those who are experiencing growth in the listed and related categories, the rising online sales mean that there are new customers who are just beginning to form new online buying habits. Influencing them and keeping them there calls for alert and flexible customer management. This will make a huge difference to the upcoming holiday season sales.
Increasingly customers are beginning to spend more time online, a reflection of the way Covid19 has restricted movement and put more time into the hands of people. It has also created an extraordinary opportunity for online retailers to spend more time with customers. The impact of creating successful customer experiences will last well beyond the pandemic. Putting a human face to the brand and connecting to the customer will help create long term customer loyalty.
The coronavirus pandemic has also changed customer expectations about online buying. As people adapt to the challenge of managing things from home, they are forced to depend on themselves more in many areas of household maintenance and care. Ruth Jeffers, CEO of Jeffers, a Pet supplies store had to revamp her entire call center to face the onslaught of questions on pet health from anxious customers home-grooming pets. She remains obstinately hopeful about the future despite personal challenges, supply chain disruptions, backorders from vendors who shut down, the work-from-home model, and the dynamics of the shifting world around her.
As confirmations and more datasets on the new normal emerge, it is important to learn to separate the blips from dynamic trend shifts. As Lee Kantz, Director of DTC Ecommerce, Itzy Ritzy rightly points out, “… judge benchmark data, but make your own decisions based on what works specifically for your brand. Measure everything.”
The next few weeks and the months ahead will be a lesson in remote working. Many online retail businesses are discovering the advantages of working from home. They are also moving towards strengthening their bonds with their employees to iron out the difficulties that come out of the workspace intruding into personal home space. As Aaron Paelander, VP of Marketing, GovX observes, remote working is not only possible, it is here to stay. While the jury is still out on whether mobile or grounded devices are going to win, desktops seem to be outpacing mobile conversion rates.
To summarize, the Pandemic is also an opportunity
- To grow and maintain a customer base
- To reinvent customer care to create better customer experiences that result in long term loyalty
- To measure and track trends for customer acquisition/conversion in your retail category and device strategies for the same
- To explore the DIY culture coming into force across households and how it might affect your business in terms of customer care services you offer
- To create a relatable brand identity amidst both customers and employees to strengthen your bonds with both
There is a lot of work to do and a window of opportunity to build your business better. The outlook remains optimistic and according to Bose the data also shows the pent-up demand. Yet it is also time to be mindful of others. As NetElixir’s CEO points out, it is important to learn about being thankful for what we have and practice gratitude.