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Three Tips for E-Commerce Success in the Pandemic

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As purchasing turns digital amid the coronavirus pandemic, businesses everywhere have pivoted to selling products online. With the crisis fast unfolding, the shift toward online purchasing has left those companies without an effective e-commerce presence at risk of being shut out.

Here are three tips that will help your small business sell and prosper online.

1. Develop a Strong Digital Presence

Having a strong digital presence is essential to online selling. If customers can’t easily find you, how can they buy your products?

It’s not quite so straightforward, though. For small businesses facing the disruption of COVID-19, the prospect of building a successful e-commerce presence can be daunting. Prior to the outbreak, many smaller firms were generating only a minority of sales from e-commerce, says Michele Peters, UPS senior manager for global e-commerce marketing. Peters shared her insights during a UPS webinar to help small businesses improve their e-commerce strategy.

Rapid economic changes triggered by the coronavirus have turned ‘business as usual’ on its head. With entire communities going into lockdown and non-essential stores closed, small businesses found themselves rushing to expand their online presence—or, in some instances, create it overnight.

According to Peters, the first step to e-commerce success is building a solid foundation for your digital operation. Fortunately, there are many third-party e-commerce tools and solutions on the market to help with this. From inventory management and loyalty programs to email marketing and website development, e-commerce solutions are available to meet all your digital commerce needs.

But what tools to select and where to start? Get help navigating your options, says Peters. UPS’s Customer Technology Program (CTP) connects small businesses like yours to a range of leading vendors offering the solutions you require. Through the program, UPS offers small businesses financial support to purchase technology solutions at discounted prices, often with little to no upfront cost.

The CTP helps you get started and takes the guesswork out of finding the best e-commerce tools available from trusted partners.

2. Find the Right Online Marketplaces

It’s easy to quickly maximize your visibility when doing business online. But this won’t happen by itself. You need to be constantly building your online presence.

There are different ways of achieving this. While marketing through your company website is an important element, it takes time to grow traffic. To get the word out fast, you need to promote your products across other channels too.

That’s where online marketplaces come in, says Eran Pick, founder and CEO of e-commerce platform solution Solid Commerce, a UPS Customer Technology Program partner. Online marketplaces offer immediate access to the kind of traffic you need. They also remove much of the friction involved with selling online.

Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light. With online marketplaces, you don’t own the customer data nor is it easy to customize the user experience for your brand. Also, if you operate only on one channel and your account is suspended or closed, your line of revenue is gone.

So, which online marketplaces are right for your business? Not all channels are created equal. Take pricing, for example. While some marketplaces are very price competitive, others offer more room for margin, says Pick.

It’s all about the marketplace dynamic. Larger, more mature marketplaces tend to offer smooth selling processes for merchants and strong potential for international sales. The challenge here is differentiating your products and getting eyeballs on your listings.

Meanwhile, some marketplaces are still scaling up. This may mean they offer a favorable buyer-to-seller ratio in your product category. Other platforms are particularly selective about the sellers they accept. Once you’re approved, however, these marketplaces can quickly develop into key revenue streams for your business.

And then there are the social media platforms that we more commonly associate with posting and sharing with our friends and followers. But what about selling on social? Several of these social media channels are fast developing into solid e-commerce platforms that you should seriously consider listing on.

Watch the webinar and hear Pick discuss the pros and cons of individual marketplaces, from the big-name platforms to the niche players. Online marketplaces are rapidly leveling the playing field for small businesses, says Pick, as he gives insider advice on how to take on the retail giants at their own game.

3. Communicate Effectively with Your Customers Online

So, you’ve secured a new online customer and you’ve fulfilled the order. Job done, right? Wrong. You now need to develop that initial sale into a meaningful, long-term relationship. 

As with any relationship in life, communication is key. But knowing how to communicate with customers online doesn’t always come easily. Many small businesses find digital communication hard and avoid it altogether—unless absolutely needed.

This, however, is a mistake, says Cory Whitfield, Listrak senior director of solutions and partnerships and UPS Customer Technology Program partner. Regular customer communication drives loyalty and paves the way for fresh sales.

Indeed, it's particularly important to communicate with your clients during the current pandemic. Your customers are your best advocates, and they want to know how your business is responding to the crisis. Now more than ever people want to feel part of a community.

So what kind of messages should you be sending customers? Keep it simple and don’t overthink it, says Whitfield. Let them know how you’re giving back to the community. Tell them about any promotions or discounts you might be offering. Update them on operational changes, such as curbside pick-up or your returns policy.  And take inspiration from the messages other companies, including competitors, are sending to their customers.

Keep your email strategy under close review in the weeks and months ahead. Assess open and clickthrough rates carefully. Run split testing—where you send out a modified version of the original message to monitor for performance differences—when crafting and tweaking campaigns.

Just remember to strike a human tone in your messages. How you’d normally talk about your product to somebody in person is how you should address your customers through email. Online communication is here to stay, says Whitfield, and there’s no better time to get good at it than now. Feel empowered to own your tone.

Get the E-commerce Tools You Need

Running a small business is tough enough already, even without a pandemic. Keep things simple during these trying times and enlist the support you need for e-commerce success.

Find out more about the Customer Technology Program and watch the webinar for friendly examples of e-commerce tools and strategies that can help you sell online.

Watch Now

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