Projections abound about what the future will hold for commerce after the pandemic subsides. The virtual global economic shutdown will certainly impact the buying power of consumers coming out of the COVID-19 enforced lockdowns, but consumerism will never completely cease to exist.
Small businesses are tasked with the challenge of competing in this new reality where worldwide companies have leaped ahead in sales. The world as we know it though has also begun to make dramatic shifts, ultimately changing the landscape of everything we use to think of as normal. Meeting these changes head-on with well-prepared strategies will also change the game for local businesses.
E-commerce has seen significant gains from pandemic isolation and being at first hand a necessity for the socially distanced consumer. As we emerge from our self imposed isolation however, e-commerce will have become more of a habit. Online buying was already making year over year gains, but the impact of COVID-19 will have certainly pushed the trajectory of global usage well beyond its original projections.
In March 2019, Statista reported global e-commerce sales tobe around $2.8Trillion. At the time, the report projected that number to growto $4.8Trillion by 2021. Factoring in the lingering and most probable permanent effects from COVID-19 spending patterns, that number will likely be surpassed this year alone.
What that means for even large e-commerce providers is increased pressure on end-user fulfillment. Backlogs are already wreaking havoc in many of the biggest logistics houses. Product purchasers will be willing to turn to businesses that provide faster service.
The pandemic has forced many urbanites to reconsider what it means to live in our crowded cities, causing many to seek the refuge of smaller communities. Those who choose to remain in urban centres will likely find their lives being reduced to smaller pockets within.
Think about that for a moment. In your own experience as an urban or suburban consumer, how far have you been motivated to move away from the ‘comfort zone’ of your own community in the past two months? This is a pattern that will linger for some time, and give new meaning to buying local.
In either scenario, this presents enormous opportunities for forward-thinking entrepreneurs. Businesses that exploit their communal base, are likely to find a closer and more loyal clientele base as a result. Like shops in small towns, operators thrive on the repeat custom from their neighbours. With the lingering memory of pandemic cautiousness still on the minds of shoppers, city dwellers are more likely to purchase goods closer to home.
‘Buy Local’ has long been the rallying cry for small retailers and now, even logistics partners are joining the fray. Canada Post, still one of the country's largest delivery providers, has jumped on the bandwagon for the promotion of local business in their advertising.
Why? The twofold answer lies in the fact that even CanadaPost knows where its bread is buttered. Regional movements still represent the bulk of the corporation's business. Secondly, they understand that largeplayers like Amazon are more likely to create in-house delivery systems, thus pushing the post office out of the loop. Promoting small business keeps postal services relevant in today’s economy.
The challenge for small enterprises then becomes, how to entice local shoppers and regain their trust when most of us are settling for the comfort and ease of purchasing from online giants.
The first and always most impactful solution for sales in recessionary times is, of course, price-driven. Reducing prices when your business has already suffered several long months of little to no sales at all, can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Assuming however that your stock is not severely affected by date restrictions, what would be the value of leaving it sitting on warehouse or showroom shelves any longer? Showroom presence in this environment becomes less of a factor naturally if customers are still buying remotely. If you have implemented an effective curbside pick-up campaign, patrons will rarely see the store’s shelves anyway.
So, why not bundle products into small groups at reduced prices to buying each item individually? Two issues are solved with this approach. the older stock gets moved at a faster rate, and customer loyalty grows from the immediate benefit of savings. Furthermore, moving inventory means new orders to manufacturers, thus encouraging the economy to get back on track.
This all sounds wonderful in a perfect world, of course.Managing the movement of products in an unchanged environment can create enormous complications when tracking your inventory. This is precisely why a cohesive strategy with the proper tools in place becomes so important.
When performed to optimum efficiency with the use of technology that crosses multiple sales channels and moves where you do, the advantage to smaller retail operators becomes more clear.
The key to any action like the one I just suggested, involvesa system that provides instantaneous and accurate results. As our economies open up again to eventual ‘normal’ return, thriving businesses will find that their respective sales funnels have grown exponentially.
Keeping accurate stock numbers in a more fluid commerce environment becomes much more than a wishful solution. It becomes vital to the future growth of your business.
Imagine the potential gains to be made when a system that moves with you, on any device, keeping real-time figures, allows all your sales channels to work in unison to move nay product on hand. Then couple that ability with a function that alerts you to shortages in stock before critical status is achieved.
Your business is suddenly playing on par with large retail operations when it comes to having the inventory at your disposal at all times.This is where speed enters the equation.
No matter how stocked or how efficient the large operator maybe, they will still struggle with the age-old dilemma; getting the product in the hands of the consumer quickly.
It was the Amazons and Walmarts of the commerce world that created the buyers’ insatiable need to receive their goods quickly. No matter how fast or efficient their global systems may be, the product still needs to be shipped.
When a local retailer fills the void with the speed of instant delivery or the agility of community customer pick up, the giant supply chain centres will be hard-pressed to match the pace. Retailers that promote readiness for quicker fulfillment as part of their brand statement, will cause customers once again to gravitate back to local businesses.
The added feature gained when creating an effective e-commerce plan to facilitate local needs, is the ability to reach out to wider markets with a finely tuned network presence.
Small and medium retail is far from dead in the water if brands are willing to refocus their energies. Providing the best of all possible customer experiences to local shoppers will nurture new loyalties from community consumers.
After all, isn’t that what many small retailers aim for from the beginning?
When consumers are prompted to think small again and shop within a community setting, the time could not be riper for small business to shine.