The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a fundamental shift in how many retail businesses operate. With the government closure of non-essential businesses and customers nervous about keeping proper social distances in retail spaces, many brick-and-mortar businesses have focused on adding ecommerce to their business model.

While this shift may have happened as a matter of necessity, there”;s also a sense that something has changed permanently. When life returns to the new normal, it will be a different business as usual.

Online Shopping Shift During the Pandemic

While the pandemic continues and the numbers for online shopping have just begun to come in, there”;s evidence to suggest a jump in ecommerce activity, and at the very least a shift in the kinds of things being bought online.

For example, preliminary data gathered by Quantum Metric shows that e-commerce associated with selected “;brick-and-mortar retailers saw an average revenue weekly growth rate increase of 52% and an 8.8% increase in conversion rates”; compared to a year ago. Its findings are based on more than five billion U.S. retailer web and mobile site visits in the first two months of the year.

A survey by Engine found that people have been spending 10% to 30% more on online shopping during the pandemic, as they increase their “;safe”; at-home activities and limit ones with higher risk of exposure, such as going to public places, gyms and restaurants (if these businesses weren”;t already closed by government order).

Big Commerce points out that there has been a shift in the kinds of things people are buying online, including more:

Food and beverages (up 7.2%)
Gifts and specialty items (up 18.9%)
Apparel and accessories (up 14.3%)
Toys and games (up 7%)
Home and garden items (up 8.4%)

Against these categories supportive of cocooning at home are more out-and-about ones that have seen sales go down, including luggage, swimwear, gym bags, store fixtures and displays, and cameras and equipment.

Significant Growth in the Omnichannel Households

Another reason for retail operations to become proficient at ecommerce is the rising force of omnichannel retailing, “;a fully-integrated approach to commerce, providing shoppers a unified experience across all channels or touchpoints.”;

This goes beyond physical retail stores to include mobile-browsing, online marketplaces, social media, and wherever your customers browse online through retargeted ads. The idea is to integrate each of these touchpoints to offer shoppers exactly what they want, when they want it and where.

Almost 75% of shoppers claim they use multiple channels to compare prices, hunt for discounts, or use in-store tablets to shop online. Other data suggests that an omnichannel approach yields:

A 9.5% year-over-year increase in annual revenue
A 7.5% year-over-year decrease in cost per customer contact
An 89% customer retention rate vs. 33% for companies with weak omnichannel customer engagement

Setting Up an Ecommerce Operation

To set up an ecommerce operation, you first need to ask yourself how you are going to sell? You have a lot of options: setting up an online store, emails with links to online checkouts, Instagram product ads, a Facebook store with inventory linked to your main site, and the list goes on.

If you don”;t have an ecommerce site yet, one fast, simple and inexpensive solution is to set one up through a service which has the ecommerce and point-of-sale features needed to start, run and grow a business.

Also, in shifting your business online, you might have to ask yourself how to handle:

Inventory: Fulfilling orders online may change how you manage inventory.
Shipping and returns: How do you plant to ship your products? Will you offer it as a free option? And what happens when a customer wants to return a product?
Delivery and pickup options: If you are a local business, such as restaurant or home hardware store, what are the delivery and pickup options you offer? Is it time to expand your horizons and deliver outside your local area?
Staffing: Who will manage and fulfill orders? Do you have to train existing staff in new fulfillment procedures? If staff members are all working from their homes, how do you organize them and stay in communication, so everyone is aligned and productive?

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