Online shopping isn't a new concept. Despite it being around for years, though, many businesses were caught without an e-commerce presence when the pandemic hit, and brick-and-mortar stores were forced to close.
Business owners who had already built out their online capabilities had a large advantage over those scrambling to adjust. In the recent State of Small Business Report: Wave III, which Facebook collaborated on with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and World Bank, we found that businesses that reported making over 25% of their sales online were more likely to report an increase in sales compared to the same period in 2019, and less likely to have reduced their number of employees as a result of the pandemic.
Consider the example of one business owner: Lindzi Shanks, co-owner of XO Marshmallow in Chicago. The business started as an online store in 2016; after a year, they were so successful they were able to open the world's first marshmallow cafe in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Fast-forward four years later: In the midst of a global pandemic that forced the physical cafe to close, Shanks leaned on the business's e-commerce roots, saying digital sales increased 400% during quarantine, keeping them afloat.
We've seen a massive acceleration of digital trends that were already underway before the pandemic, advancing years' worth of consumer behavior in a matter of months. In a survey we conducted with Deloitte, examining consumers' use of digital tools during the pandemic, 48% of those surveyed reported an increase in online spending overall since lockdowns began, and the vast majority have used digital tools to discover and engage with new businesses.
The research also shows that consumers are increasingly looking to shop small and local. Of those who have started shopping at a new business because of the pandemic, nearly three-quarters said that at least one of those new businesses was a small business, with less than half stating it was a large business. Local businesses were driving this shift, with 60% stating that they had started purchasing from a small business local to them.
While these findings are a bright spot for businesses during an incredibly difficult time, small businesses must take note: What was once called the future of shopping is now present day. If you are not online, your business will lose out, as this is where the buyers increasingly are. Research has already shown how beneficial e-commerce is to small businesses since the pandemic began – we've seen how businesses making more than 25% of their sales online are more likely to report year-over-year sales growth (even during a pandemic). With the most important shopping season just around the corner, there is no time to waste for businesses that did not already have an e-commerce strategy.
For many businesses, making the jump from offline to online may feel daunting, especially during this difficult and unpredictable time. But time and again, small businesses show us what it means to be resilient – and I believe this period will be no different. Whether your business is currently closed or operational, if you're just getting started with your online storefront, consider taking these important first few steps – just in time to capitalize on the holiday shopping season and the increased interest from consumers to shop small and shop online.
1. Set up your digital storefront in just a few clicks.
It can be as easy as a few clicks to get started online; you don't have to do it all on day one. Does your business lend itself to the visual nature of Instagram? Then set up a business profile so shoppers can find you there. You could also set up business profiles on Google, Facebook and Yelp. Many of these platforms offer seamless ways for businesses to connect with customers, keep them updated and sell online. Or could you more easily connect and support customers if you offered one-to-one connections through messaging? These are small and simple ways to begin to bring your business online.
2. Get ready for your close-up.
One of the key components to selling online is showcasing your products and services. Take photographs so shoppers can see the wonderful items you offer. But don't snap and upload too quickly! A few simple photography tricks can go a long way. Try to take pictures in bright rooms with a good source of natural light, use different backgrounds and angles to see what looks best, and include props that complement your product rather than distract from it. You may want your images to have a consistent look and feel: Accomplish this by carefully considering the colors, textures, lighting and techniques you use. [Read related article: 10 Ways to Take Better Social Media Campaign Photos]
3. Test, test, and test some more.
The beauty of digital media is how simple it can be to test what works best with your customers. Especially in this uncertain climate, it's important to be adaptable. Try out some tools that make testing easier. For example, with Facebook Business Suite, you can now schedule posts on Facebook and Instagram, giving you a chance to see what content works best to engage your audience. If you're ready to take your advertising online, testing is also an important way to find budget efficiencies heading into the holiday season.
4. Note new factors impacting holiday timelines.
Once you've made the jump to sell your products online, there are still many unknowns for the forthcoming holiday season, including how the existing shipping infrastructures will adapt and respond to new pressures. For retailers, this means planning for earlier "last days to ship" than ever in order to meet expected consumer demand for online gift shopping.
5. Communicate proactively.
If you have updates concerning an order, share them! Whether this is a shipping notification, a new delivery timeline or another update, people appreciate proactive communication about the status of their items. Try using platforms like Messenger that allow you to respond quickly and be conversational with your customers to show them that you care, particularly when you're answering questions or working to resolve an issue.
6. Seek help from partners.
Are you ready to set up your website or online store, but you don't have the technical support or skills to do so? Companies like Wix, Squarespace, Shopify and GoDaddy want to help – and make it easy to build the components necessary to start driving online sales.
While the rapid shift to online shopping may have some small businesses stressed or overwhelmed, it really is an opportunity. The industry was headed in this direction; the pandemic only accelerated it. At the same time, the impact of COVID-19 raised consumers' awareness for the importance of shopping at local and small businesses, including those owned or operated by women or minorities. I'd encourage small businesses to do everything they can to continue to build their online shopping capabilities and presence. It will help them now and in the long run. As I said, the future is now.