We've already witnessed the innovation of companies who've made the switch to being fully online during the pandemic. Manufacturing plants transitioned to emergency production while other types of businesses found unique ways to deal with everything from keeping their employees healthy to managing supply chain disruptions.
Whether you're transitioning by design or necessity, moving your business into the digital world is a process that takes patience and planning. Some companies already have a strong online presence and just need to optimize operations, while others are beginning from scratch. Wherever you are in the process, there are some important tips to keep in mind for a successful transition.
Welcome to the New Normal
Whatever industry or sector you serve, there are common challenges faced in the transition from brick and mortar stores to eCommerce shops. These range from finding the right hosting platform for your business model to getting your customers and staff onboard with minimal cost and confusion. As you transition your business online, keep these strategies in mind to stay connected to your customers and make the switch seamless for your employees.
Choose the Right Digital Platform
If you haven't already built a fully functional online store, website, or other customer portal, that should be your first step. Choose the right type of platform or storefront for your business model. Any platform you use should prioritize security and reliability, and be able to handle your expected traffic with speed and efficiency.
For example, an online healthcare provider may need portals where patients can access their records and a video platform to deliver telemedicine. Manufacturing facilities will need inventory controls, supply chain management, and end-to-end, integrated customer portals.
Also keep in mind that the website will now be the first impression your prospects have of your brand. The website should be eye-catching and get your visitors engaged with your products and messaging. But don’t try to do too much at once and risk making your site too busy - consider minimalistic designs that are easy to navigate.
Keep All Stakeholders in the Loop
Even if you're a traditional brick-and-mortar business, many of your core functions may already be conducted online. If you’re not already, you should be leveraging technology for things like digital marketing and automated processes like submitting payments and invoices. You can make your life easier by using software that comes with crucial features like instant credit card payments and customizable invoice templates that show your customers your business is reliable and user-friendly.
Any plans to move online should be carefully considered within the context of how it will affect every aspect of your business. Staff may need retraining, and customers will have to relearn how they interact with your company. Allow yourself a transitional period to work out the kinks, then communicate your online presence to your customers.
Make Mobile Access a Priority
Even if you still have a physical location or headquarters, many of your business functions will be conducted remotely. Mobile access is essential for every facet of your business since most consumers already conduct the bulk of their browsing and shopping from a smartphone.
Once you go online, you'll also need to remain connected to remote staff, oversee inventory and production, and market your business. Whatever you need, there's an app that can get it done. Prioritizing mobile access and design will also improve SEO and ensure that customers can still find you in your new digital environment.
As you transition to being an eCommerce shop, there may be some new regulations that could be costly if you aren't paying attention. For example, some industries and services require licensing to conduct certain types of business from home. The Small Business Administration (SBA) can provide further information about your specific location and business type.
There are also compliance considerations regarding data collection, storage, and disposal that you may be unfamiliar with. Consider consulting with an attorney who is familiar with online commerce about your options. You can also obtain a wealth of information from the Internal Revenue Service website about taxes and other financial regulations.
Leverage all Marketing Opportunities
Unless you've helmed an eCommerce store for a while, a complete digital transformation can have a steep learning curve. The trick is to minimize business disruption and retain your customer base as you expand.
Long-time customers may see your brick-and-mortar store shuttered and panic. Online consumers will need to find you in a sea of competitors. In addition to keeping all stakeholders in the loop before, during, and after your transformation, leverage every marketing channel at your disposal in order to boost your online presence.
If you haven't been active on social media, create or resurrect your presence on marketing platforms by providing frequent updates, engaging with customers, and creating social proof through customer reviews. Establish a presence on industry and consumer sites and fill out your Google My Business profile.
If you are new to the eCommerce space, you may want to consider an eCommerce platform with built-in digital marketing features to make your life easier. But as London-based trader and financial investor Alex Williams of Hosting Data notes, you don’t want to end up with too many features that you don’t know how to use.
“Ecommerce platforms that offer more features are often better for larger businesses with experienced customer management and digital marketing teams,” Williams says. “For smaller businesses, making real use out of all those tools can be time-consuming and, ultimately, not worthwhile.” Consider hiring a web designer or social media manager if you're unsure which platforms to use or how to incorporate them into your business marketing strategy.
Keep One Foot in the Physical World
Even after you've moved online, you can still benefit from keeping one foot in the real world. Some consumers love the ease and convenience of an online shopping experience, but others still want to be able to see and feel products before they buy.
Keep some physical channels open to supplement your online presence. This can be achieved through participation in seminars and conventions or by creating physical hubs or kiosks in strategic locations so that people can see your product in action.
Mind Your Metrics
None of this technology is any good unless you keep tabs on performance. You need to know where your efforts are paying off and where you need to boost or tweak some component. All online platforms from hosting services to digital marketing make performance metrics available so that you can track traffic, uptime, sales, and other KPIs.
This type of tracking and analysis is often conducted in real time so that you will have accurate information at hand for daily decision making. You'll also have access to historic numbers and analytics to track trends and make data-driven, long-term decisions. Monitor your customer interactions on social media platforms and consider how best to reach your target demographics.
Organizations and companies in every industry have had to make changes to stay afloat over the past year. Those already planning an eventual move into the digital realm have had to fast-track their plans, while others have struggled with the new normal.
Whatever your company’s long-term goals, your immediate focus should be making the transition as smooth as possible for your customers and workers. Following these best-practices will help your business weather disruptions and make your move online as painless and efficient as possible.