Moving your Business online?
Your business is as important as ever in trying times, perhaps more. It is a beacon of stability in your community, is a source of support for your employees, and produces something your customers still need. If your business has traditionally served most customers in person, it may already (or may soon) suffer due to decreased customer traffic, inability to provide services due to health concerns, or government-mandated restrictions on activity. We want to help your business stay open even if your physical location cannot.
We are optimists, but can’t predict how long it will take humanity to vanquish COVID-19, or how long disruptions will last in your area. You should consider opening up online revenue streams if possible; they will help you both in the current circumstances and may provide interesting opportunities for growth into the future.
Understanding the operating environment
No one has a crystal ball as to what will happen with regards to COVID-19, but we have emerging clarity on which scenarios are more and less likely.
It appears likely that most cities worldwide have already or will have to take drastic social distancing measures, resulting in a partial to complete cessation of local commercial activity, at some point within the next few months. This includes where you live and do business, if you have avoided this to this point. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries appeared to roll out aggressive mitigation strategies which avoided the necessity for lockdowns. Unfortunately, the more recent experience of these countries suggests this is not likely sustainable. We advise you to consider “business as usual” to become impossible, likely sooner than expected.
The social distancing measures will not end quickly and will likely be instituted multiple times. Experts suggest that burning out the virus requires a lockdown multiple times the length of the course of the disease, which is approximately two weeks. Experience from previous pandemics, such as the Spanish Flu, and from the countries affected by COVID-19 first, suggests that we could see multiple peaks in infections. This will likely result in jurisdictions relaxing local restrictions, having infection spread pick up again after a lag, and re-imposing the restrictions.
In planning your response to COVID-19, you are not just preparing for a prompt, critical threat to the business. You should also plan for waves of similar conditions interspersed with brief returns to relatively normal operations. This will be during an atmosphere of general trepidation and with confusion in the public response.
This means that you should choose countermeasures which are quick to adopt, flexible, and will serve your business well regardless of whether your physical location is capable of operating. Happily, expanding online is all of these at once, and will continue being useful even after we reach the end of this crisis.
Your first online store
Building an online store from scratch is a major project. We would, candidly, likely advise most businesses against that project even in the best of times. Luckily, technology companies have created extremely good options over the last few years. These e-commerce platforms are inexpensive, easy to get up and running with, require no engineering effort from you, and provide your customers with high-quality experiences similar to the ones they get at the largest online-first retailers. They are, by far, the best, quickest, most reliable way to boot up an online presence capable of transacting with the largest number of customers.
We partner with thousands of platforms and marketplaces that help businesses move online quickly without any code required. Here are some of our most popular partner platforms. These solutions can help you open up alternative revenue streams and easily reach new or existing customers online to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on your business. You can also search for a specific solution that fits your needs in our partner directory.
Many of these tools are built specifically for use cases like:
Restaurant and food delivery options
Property management platforms
Field service platforms
If the thought of putting your entire inventory or menu online seems overwhelming, focus on your top-selling products or services and build gradually from there. Starting small will help you get to market faster, give your business experience with the mechanics of operating online, and help you adjust to logistical challenges gradually.
Selling online is very different from selling offline, in that customers generally have limited options to viscerally experience the product or speak to staff prior to making a purchasing decision. You’ll find that writing copy, shooting photos, and creating video become core skills quickly. Happily, these are all easy to experiment with, and you likely already have all of the equipment you need to get started. (Smartphones are extremely capable of producing commercial quality photos and video!)
Attracting and retaining customers
To help you maximize traffic to your site, you may wish to consider leveraging the following tools:
Use your physical storefront: Your loyal customers likely represent a large percentage of your existing revenue base. Even if you are presently unable to service them at your storefront, that is, as of this moment, likely the primary anchor for you in their minds. Put up an external sign (especially if your storefront is closed) and/or internal signage (if you’re still open for business but preparing for a range of outcomes in the future) telling customers where to find you online. Depending on your region and clientele, it may be most natural to direct customers to a website, a QR code, or a search query on a popular platform.
Get in touch with existing customers: If you have customers email addresses, strongly consider sending them an email explaining the current status of your physical operations and directing them to your online presence. Your customers may want to hear from you now more than ever; it has been widely reported that local businesses are suffering and some customers want to know how they can help. Ask for their continued patronage; consider asking for their help in “getting the word out” about you via e.g. social media, referring friends, etc. We have a guide about effective email marketing for e-commerce websites.
Use social media (even more): Many businesses have active social media accounts. If you do, wonderful: now is a great time to make use of it. If not, setting up a simple account (consider asking staff or family what service they would expect to find you on) is generally free and easy. You can post updates about your operations to it and broadly just be present for the segment of customers who use social media and like your business. In addition to using social media yourself you can encourage your customers to post about you. Presenting your goods in a way that makes them attractive for photographs or placing a thoughtful card in a delivery package that expresses gratitude for a customer’s support and invites them to post about you can help drive awareness.
Use messaging platforms like Whatsapp: You may have Whatsapp numbers, phone numbers, etc for your existing customers as a function of standard operations of your business. You should be respectful of your customers’ time if they’re not currently transacting with you, but consider sending them a courtesy heads-up about where to find you in the current operating environment. It is best to keep this sort of outreach minimal, though, to avoid spamming your customers.
Some businesses have even had success in using Whatspp and similar messaging services as a virtual storefront: take orders via text, send the customer an invoice with embedded payment options, then arrange to get them the goods.
Taking payments from your customers
If you use the sorts of platforms we have recommended, payments is generally included “out of the box.” Stripe powers many platforms’ payment experiences, both in helping customers pay and in moving that money to your business’ bank account.
If your business doesn’t naturally map to the sort where a platform can calculate bills for you, you may want to consider an online invoicing system instead. Stripe lets you easily create invoices that your customers can pay online, or you can use one of our invoicing partners.
This will let you send customers an invoice via email or a messenger app, take the customers’ payment on their own device (via credit card, having them authorize a bank transfer, etc.), and then receive a notification that they have paid so that you can process their order or provide services.
Getting goods to your customers
Shipping goods is a deep, deep topic, and ends up being core to customer happiness in the retail experience. Many of our e-commerce customers use companies which specialize in e-commerce shipping and logistics to help them manage this process. You can also get started small by packing your own orders at your location and sending them, one at a time, via your local post office or carrier services, if they remain available in the present circumstances.
Some of our existing users work with these leading companies:
Lalamove (Singapore, Malaysia)
Ninjavan (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia)
Grab (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia)
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