It’s no secret that the current COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on every organization. Physical stores that were forced to close were faced with the complex challenge of transitioning to e-commerce overnight. But is that actually realistic—or possible? We think so. However, structured thinking must take place in order to plan a strategic transformation. In this article, we’ll share our best tips so that you can move towards doing business online quickly and efficiently.
Ask the right questions
No matter how urgent the situation is, you have to take the time to ask the right questions. It’s the only way you can be sure that you won’t waste valuable investments, which are of great importance during these times. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself in order to move forward.
First, think strategically about your organization’s capabilities. In situations like the current crisis, asking these 2 questions can be an excellent starting point:
- Is my company motivated and committed enough to open an e-commerce store?
- Do we have the necessary expertise in-house to manage this transition?
These questions are centred around a key issue: capability. During times of crisis, everyone reacts differently. However, it’s important to understand that taking your business online will require a lot of effort on your part. After all, it takes work to transform your business model.
Do you need to set limits on what you’ll sell in your e-commerce store?
Based on your answers to the above questions, you may also need to set limits on what you’ll sell in your e-commerce store. It might be wise to only sell your top products online or those that bring you the highest return on investment. Or maybe it would be more advantageous to collaborate with other companies in your field to launch a single shared platform. The important thing is to be aware of your limitations so you can cut to the chase and maximize the benefits of your digital solution.
Who will be involved?
You already have certain skills in-house, but what about going beyond those? Review your business model and identify all of the external stakeholders who will be impacted by your decisions. Are there any suppliers who you’ll need to do business with in a new way? Are there any resellers who might not like your new distribution channel? You’ll need your partners’ involvement and skills to move forward, but, in some cases, they may also act as obstacles that you’ll have to overcome. Taking stock of them is important!
What will the financial impacts be?
It’s important to reflect on the costs of transitioning your business into e-commerce. Of course, there will be expenses related to digital development, but that’s not all. For example, shipping costs will also affect the final price of your products. Is that something that will work for your company? Will your clients understand these changes? Taking the time to reflect on your clients’ needs in this way is critical to your communications strategy and other aspects of running your business.
Thinking about logistics
Of course, e-commerce will also have an impact on your daily logistics operations, and to a broader extent, on your entire value chain. For this reason, you should also focus some of your strategic thinking around logistics issues to make sure that you have addressed as many important considerations as possible.
Do you have enough logistics resources?
When an order is placed on your site, you’ll need to prepare and ship the product. Order picking is a critical process that requires employees to collect the products from the warehouse, package them and indicate their destination. When drawing up your procedures, you should think about all the steps that your employees will have to complete in order to prevent these major mistakes:
- Selecting the wrong items
- Selecting the wrong quantity of items
- Selecting an item with a reference number close to the one being looked for
- Having items scattered throughout the warehouse
- Mixing two or more orders together
- Replacing an item without authorization
- Selecting an item with the wrong dimensions
Digital tools can definitely be of great help. We’ll look at them in more detail soon.
Are there any logistical problems associated with your products?
Complications with logistics may also arise as a direct result of your products. Since each product has its own specific characteristics, it’s important to confirm whether it can be shipped. A product may be very fragile and require a lot of protective packaging. Or it may be confidential and require real-time tracking. The important thing is to think about your products while planning your online store. To make things easier, here are a few elements to consider when identifying the potential positive and negative repercussions of shipping your products:
- Size and weight
- Life cycle and expiration date
- Level of security and confidentiality
- Warehousing and storage (refrigeration, etc.)
- Complementary products (does the product go with other products?)
- Substitution (what will you replace the product with if it’s out of stock?)
- Brand (and related resale and distribution rights)
How will you ship your packages?
It goes without saying that you’ll also need to figure out how you’ll ship orders to your clients. There are several possible strategies. If you decide to open an e-commerce site during the rush to respond to the crisis, you might want to think about placing limits on the delivery zone so your company can make deliveries on its own. However, you can also expand your range very quickly by going with organizations that provide postal services, such as Fedex, Purolator or Canada Post. If your products have characteristics that make shipping complicated, these organizations will be well-equipped to assist you.
In this day and age, you may also decide to go with local delivery services, such as GOLO. This option could be worthwhile if you choose to sell online without opening a virtual store. However, it could also be risky since you wouldn’t be self-sufficient and could be left in a tight spot if the service decided to close down.
How does your after-sales service work?
Thinking about your after-sales service is also important. There are three elements that your team should consider. Is your company able to:
- respond to your clients’ problems or questions quickly?
- recover problematic packages and replace them, if necessary?
- reimburse or compensate your clients?
In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be easier to handle communications with your clients since your store employees are less busy than usual for now. However, when things go back to normal, how will you handle the issue? You should have this discussion with your team soon!
And on a broader scale, what other issues may come into play?
It’s true that the current context means that companies have less time to make decisions and implement new business models. However, you can spread out strategic thinking to improve your online business continuously and proactively. When you do, don’t forget to re-examine each part of your online value chain:
- The end customer
- The virtual store
- Products and services
- Secure payment
Now that you’ve figured out your logistics and strategic orientations, it’s time to think about which technologies could be useful.
Select the right technology
If you want to do business online, technology is a must. In the next sections, we’ll take a look at all the digital tools that could make your digital store a success.
The transaction site
In order to do business online, you need to have a transaction site. Your website must not only display your products but also be able to sell them. Some features are absolutely essential:
- A product catalogue and product categories
- A search engine to help with buying
- Description sheets for each of your products
- The ability to enter promo codes or gift card numbers
- A shopping cart so your customers can set aside products while shopping
- A fully secure payment process
- A clearly explained delivery process
- A connection to your inventory for optimal inventory monitoring
There are other features that can also be very useful, even though they are secondary to the ones above. Here are a few:
- Being able to zoom in on the products
- The option to customize the product, if possible
- Displaying reviews from your previous customers
- A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section to avoid overburdening your after-sales service
- A chat function to make communication easier and faster
- The option to download user manuals or guides for your products
- A product comparison tool and/or recommendations for related products
- A reminder for abandoned shopping carts and a retargeting campaign
And don’t make the mistake of having a virtual store that isn’t accessible from all devices. Your customers may want to shop from their mobile phone or tablet. That means you need to make sure that the design, interfaces and buttons work on all devices.
When planning your site, you may wish to choose a ready-made solution. However, you can also collaborate with a digital firm to develop a customized solution. That’s actually the approach that we would recommend over the long term. And no, it doesn’t mean that it will take a lot longer to get your site up. A digital firm can quickly set up a standard e-commerce site that you can improve over time.
Your virtual store should also have an extranet module so that your customers can access their accounts. In a strategic sense, it’s wise to have customer accounts to allow your customers to independently follow-up on their orders and resolve certain problems. They also provide a way to build strong relationships with customers and try out relevant marketing strategies.
Here are a few recommendations for developing a customer area:
- Optimize operations by connecting your CRM to your extranet
- Boost your image and build customer loyalty using the customer area and other activities
- Exchange ideas with your customers by making your customer area a collaborative space
To manage the logistics of your online business, you should also think about acquiring smart inventory software. The software can help improve inventory management and let customers know which products are still available in real time. In addition, inventory software makes it possible to:
- Invoice and receive payments
- Track sales and stay connected to your CRM
- Generate activity and inventory reports
- Manage tasks and projects around your inventory
- Access your inventory from anywhere at any time
This type of software should also help you to better organize your inventory by displaying type, product category, possible links between sales, etc. You can also set up notifications to make sure you never experience a shortage.
Once again, there are many open-source platforms that can be used to develop your inventory software in a customized way. One such example is OCS Inventory.
Connected objects (IoT)
When you’re ready to take things further, you can also make your online business fully innovative with connected objects (IoT). They can be useful in several ways:
- Collecting data to personalize your products/services
- Preparing orders and scheduling deliveries
- Compiling real-time inventory data
- Helping field employees with repetitive tasks
In e-commerce, the main advantage of using connected objects (IoT) is that they can handle repetitive tasks while collecting data. But there’s more to it than warehouse robotics. You can also develop an Internet of Things (IoT) that is able to issue alerts if products fall, are out of stock or have been stored in the wrong place. A solution can be developed to solve any type of issue!
Your online presence will generate a lot of data. In order to be proactive and successful, you need to be able to manage that data. To help with this, you can use several tools, including databases. Check out the full article we recently published to help you get started with data management.
Never overlook the customer experience
Due to the current crisis, many companies are launching their e-commerce sites very quickly. However, there’s no excuse for neglecting the customer experience of your online store.
As is the case with your physical store, your online store must optimize the customer experience. The customer experience includes the emotions and impressions felt by a consumer before, during and after the purchase of a product. It’s the result of all of the customer’s online and offline interactions with your company.
You should never overlook the customer experience if you want to convert and retain customers. All of your actions and choices have an impact on the customer experience, including product packaging, the methods of communication you use to generate traffic, your after-sales service and delivery times. Luckily, there are many tools available to help you analyze all the interactions you have with your customers. One such tool is the Customer Map Journey.
When referring to the customer experience on a digital platform, such as an e-commerce site, it’s actually more accurate to use the term user experience. It’s important to make the distinction.
The user experience (UX/UI)
The user experience (UX) refers to the quality of the user’s experience in any interaction situation. The broad way in which the UX addresses the concept of experience is what sets it apart from the user interface (UI). The UI, on the other hand, refers to the interface the user interacts with on a platform. It’s pretty much the visible part of the iceberg. To provide your customers with an optimal experience, you need to optimize both your UX and your UI.
One thing is sure—the user experience should never be overlooked, even in times of crisis. An optimized user experience makes it possible to:
- Build the value of your company and products/services
- Easily provide the specific information your users are looking for
- Convey emotions to your users
- Develop your brand image
- Increase your conversion rate
- Simplify the purchasing process on your site
- Eliminate potential inconveniences that result in abandoned shopping carts
Most studies find that 70% of shopping carts are abandoned. You should therefore make sure your user experience won’t scare off your customers! Here are a few interesting ideas to help optimize the user experience of your e-commerce site:
- Use cross-selling strategies for complementary products
- Display the remaining inventory for each product
- Provide product sheets with the information that users are looking for
- Use truly effective and engaging call-to-actions
- Offer your customers simple ways of communicating with your company
- Make sure there is a clear path from the shopping cart to checkout
- Use well-known e-commerce tags
Having an optimal user experience on your e-commerce site contributes to improving your customer experience in a broader sense. But let’s be honest—it’s just one piece of the puzzle. As mentioned previously, other factors such as logistics, marketing and even your employees have an impact on the customer experience.
Thankfully, you can collect information on visitor behaviour and use it to improve your user experience. That means that you can launch a virtual store that meets the minimum criteria for an acceptable user experience and then continually improve it without interrupting your daily operations.
The purpose of a conversion funnel
The last topic we wanted to discuss is the conversion funnel. It’s a phrase used to describe the steps consumers go through to reach a goal (in this context, making a purchase). The purpose of using this type of conceptual framework is to help you develop a consistent online platform that tracks your customers’ behaviour. With the current crisis, there’s no time to educate your prospective customers. That means you need to make sure that your site caters to their habits and is as user-friendly as possible. When you frame your thinking around the conversion funnel, you’ll be better able to see the steps that cause the most problems.
Points to remember
In the past, companies were always told to venture into e-commerce carefully and strategically in order to maximize return on investment. But with COVID-19, it’s a different story—companies don’t necessarily have the time. However, that’s no reason to jump into e-commerce blindly. Now that you’ve read this article, you know the essential topics you need to reflect on to develop your e-commerce site. It’s time to bring your teams into the discussion and use digital technology to build the future of your company!
We’re here to help
Libéo is a digital innovation firm that develops software and application solutions that help organizations solve challenges. We develop transaction platforms, customer areas, inventory systems and connected objects (IoT) to support e-commerce sites. Our experts can help you navigate the current shift by engaging in strategic reflection with your teams and co-creating your next digital solution. Co-development combined with strategic thinking is our recipe for success.