How to Move Your Brick-and-Mortar Business Online During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we do business. Essential businesses have made changes like implementing contactless service and frequent cleanings, meanwhile non-essential businesses have been forced to look for new ways to reach customers.

For many, that’s meant turning to online sales. While not all small businesses can fully shift to e-commerce, moving even some of your business online can help your business survive COVID-19 closures.

But first, you need to get the right systems in place. If your small business is new to e-commerce, PE4U invites you to let these resources guide you in building and running your online store.

Building an Online Store

You could hire an expert e-commerce developer to build your online store, and for businesses with complex operations, a custom e-commerce website may be the best solution. However, most small businesses can get by with off-the-shelf solutions that let them launch an online store quickly and cheaply.

Since e-commerce platforms bundle domain names, web hosting, and payment gateways into their packages, this is a beginner-friendly solution for entrepreneurs who are new to online sales. While Squarespace and Shopify are perhaps the most well-known e-commerce platforms, businesses have a wide range of options to choose from, including platforms for niche industries.

Tips for Local Online Sales

When selling products online, you have several options for how to get them to customers.

Shipping is standard for e-commerce, but it’s not necessarily the best choice for local businesses. Shipping is costly, and many small businesses find the expense erodes their profit margins.

If you primarily serve local customers, consider offering curbside pickup at your location. If your customers want delivery, compare the cost of hand-delivering goods to shipping. You may find local delivery is both more economical and more personal.

Ramping Up Your Warehouse

Shifting from primarily brick-and-mortar to online stores also has implications for a business’s internal operations. If order picking was previously split between your brick-and-mortar store and your warehouse, you may need to revise warehouse operations to keep up with the increased workload.

An easy way to improve warehouse efficiency is by switching from order line picking to wave picking. Wave picking reduces travel time for pickers, allowing orders to be picked faster. If wave picking is too inflexible for your business, try zone picking. Not only is zone picking useful for large warehouses, but since each picker is assigned to a zone it can be used to main social distancing in your warehouse as well.

Marketing to Local Customers Online

Once you’ve set your business up for online sales, the final task is telling your customers. While the pandemic poses challenges to local marketing, it also presents opportunities. With consumers spending more time and money online, small businesses can stretch their digital marketing dollars further.

Optimizing local search listings, running paid social media ads, and publishing coronavirus-related content on social media, websites, and email newsletters are all smart ways to reach customers online during the pandemic.

However, small businesses also have to be careful about how they present their message. Choose images that reflect the social distancing era and keep your tone empathetic and helpful, not overly sales-focused.

Thinking Ahead

Last but not least, as we head into the winter season, think about potential outcomes. With another wave of shutdowns a possibility, it’s important to have a plan for adapting to these changes, even if they don’t take place. Will your business be forced to slow down? Will workers’ hours need to change to implement social distancing? Depending on your product and your situation, you may even need to switch to working from out of your home and turn to a dropshipping method. Whatever the case may be, have a game plan in mind for your employees, your inventory and warehouse, and a way to make remote work comfortable and as smooth as you can.

Taking your local business online is easier than it seems. And with no end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic, the investment in your small business’s web presence is well worth the expense. With an online store, you’ll be able to generate revenue during the pandemic and benefit from a new income stream after it ends. While the pandemic hasn’t been easy on the economy, the opportunity to sell online is a bright spot for small businesses.

By Chelsea Lamb