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E-commerce and SMEs

For many, the Covid-19 era has seen a permanent shift towards different ways of working. Prominent among these has been a shift towards e-commerce solutions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a rapid upswing in e-commerce activity in almost every industry. While e-commerce was already a growing trend over the last decade, the immediate need to adopt distanced, non-contact methods of doing business has made it a very practical alternative to the traditional methods of buying and selling goods.

Online retail and a stronger overall online presence have become the new normal for many businesses. More people are buying online and shoppers are increasing both their overall spend and the value of items they are comfortable purchasing online.

The risks and complexities of shifting a business operation online are varied, and have different impacts for different types of businesses. An e-commerce solution for a bricks-and-mortar retailer might not necessarily work for a sole trader providing a contactless service.

But there are a few common questions SMEs should consider when looking to pivot towards selling goods or services online.

Will your customers follow you?

One of the biggest benefits of an e-commerce offering is the ability to build a customer base beyond your neighbourhood, town, or even your country. But it is also worth weighing up whether your existing customer base will happily purchase from you online too.

Is the audience for your product internet savvy? Are there competing businesses in your market that already have established online presences? Would moving to an e-commerce solution undermine key values your customers might appreciate about your service offering, such as approachable frontline staff or a reputation for knowledgeable in-store advice?

Think about the items you sell. What would your packaging solution be for shipping across town, or to another country? What would be the impact on the price to consumers if you had to factor in higher packaging and transport costs?

What extra insurance coverage could you need to implement to safely ship your products further afield? Are the products you sell difficult to transport, large, perishable, or fragile? Are there restrictions on shipping your products overseas or via certain forms of transport?

Does your physical location present barriers for logistics partners to quickly and easily collect goods for distribution? The ability to offer overnight delivery to certain locations, for example, is popular for online stores – if you can’t offer this, how might it alter your reputation for customer service, or impact the quality of items you’re selling?

Ecommerce website

Ensuring your website has a simple, secure e-commerce payment process is crucial.

Is your website easy to use?

Treat your website like a storefront and make sure your products are easily identifiable. You still want to attract your customer's eye in the same way as if they were in a physical retail space. Up to date images, product information and pricing are essential components.

If your inventory is large, category classification for website navigation is a must. Allowing your customers to search your inventory by style of item, price, special offers, or the latest items in stock etc., provides multiple pathways towards finding what they need, and completing the transaction.

Help avoid abandoned carts by itemising contents with a clear breakdown of per-item and total cost, as well as freight costs itemised and included. If you are able to offer free shipping on orders over a certain value, this has proven to be a positive influencer for increased transactions.

An e-commerce platform which also sends email or text confirmation to the customer that the transaction has been successful, with a record of the items ordered and even an estimate on delivery time, is a similarly reassuring part of the online purchase process.

Is your website secure?  

Ensuring you have a simple, secure online payment process is also crucial.  There are many out of the box e-commerce solutions available, some of which offer their own secure payment systems, and also feature back-end accounting tools for the business owner. 

While overall consumers are becoming more trustworthy and comfortable using credit or debit cards to make online purchases, your customers will want to be confident your business uses up-to-date security software.

With changes to the Privacy Act last year too, it’s even more critical than ever for customers' payment and personal details to be handled securely. Speaking with your insurance broker about what risks and exposures exist for your data and your business, will give you a firmer understanding of what technology and tools are available to protect you and your customers. Cyber insurance for example can play a key role in helping your business recover in the aftermath of a cyber attack.

Do you have solid logistics partners in place?

In the Covid era, home delivery or click-and-collect fulfilment options have become extremely popular, and even necessary at times. Consumers appreciate quick delivery, confirmation that their items have been sent, and the ability to track delivery progress.

Using a trusted logistics partner is important. Do they pick up and drop off regularly? Do they offer an end-to-end service, or rely on third party freight providers? Is it easy for you as the business owner to independently check on delivery status through their system? Do they communicate with your customers around package whereabouts and delivery times? Do they offer a ‘signature required’ option or other delivery fulfilment confirmation for both you and your customer?

If you wish to offer products to international markets you will also need to research logistics firms operating overseas - or factor in sub-contracted relationships that local freight companies might have in place with global logistics providers.

Remember, your customers will still want to engage with you 

The ability for a customer to call or email someone within your organisation remains essential, even if you have moved your operation fully online. Prominently displaying your contact information and keeping on top of your contact methods can strengthen your customer service offering.

Chatbots – virtual assistants which are able to answer a series of pre-programmed Frequently Asked Questions or direct your customers towards further help – are becoming an increasingly popular method of customer interaction online, especially for larger corporate entities.

Devoting resource to communicate with customers directly while you transition online, can help reassure customers that your goods or services remain consistent regardless.

Do you have testimonials and reviews available? 

While you have spent plenty of time and energy ensuring your existing customer base will continue to purchase from you, a strong online presence means your products or services will potentially be seen by a much wider audience.

Offering your existing customers the opportunity to review your goods or services, can build trust between your brand and new customers, who naturally seek out recommendations from others.

Your own online presence provides an opportunity to tell visitors about you, your brand, your company values, and the products and services you sell. Beyond straightforward product descriptions, take some time to craft short blog posts, range overviews or behind-the-scenes content that shows how a particular item is manufactured.

If your customers can engage with your company longer, and learn more about the people, heritage, or philosophy behind it, for example, they could be more likely to purchase from you. By sharing aspects of your business life, you’ll forge stronger relationships with your customers. This will keep them engaged, coming back, and transacting more.

Published April 2021