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2 Years Later: What Merchants Have Learned From the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was common for many brick-and-mortar shops to rely on foot traffic for business. While websites were imperative, merchants didn’t necessarily depend on the internet for sales. Websites were often treated as an introduction to the business — not a revenue-generating asset.

When the pandemic pushed consumers home for extended periods of time, many merchants had to throw out their playbooks and quickly pivot their business models or risk closing their doors forever. So what was learned over the last two years?

Make shopping more convenient.

The data is clear — e-commerce boomed during the pandemic, and it’s not slowing down; the market has changed permanently. Even after pandemic restrictions lifted, consumers continue to shop online more often than before. They’re not willing to give up convenience, and why should they?

According to a study done by eMarketer, online shopping increased nearly 33.6% in 2020. Overall retail sales increased to a whopping $5.6 trillion, and small businesses saw a 104% average increase in sales during the 2020 holiday season. It’s hard to ignore those statistics.

Along with bolstering their online shopping options, business owners had to get creative in how they delivered their goods and services, especially in a nearly contactless world. This led to curbside pickup, porch drop-off, drive-thru, local delivery by employees and more. When it came to serving their customers, small businesses showed serious ingenuity.

Web traffic is equally as important as foot traffic.

Merchants quickly realized that their online shops could truly bolster their sales and started to include e-commerce in their overall business strategy. For some, that meant hiring a web designer to build a better website. Others focused on expanding the social media presence of their business. Some seized the opportunity to play offense and increased their marketing budgets and outreach efforts.

Small businesses wanting to stay competitive now have to cater to the customer more than ever before. By offering a variety of ways to shop, different payment options and various delivery or pick-up methods, you can ensure that every customer gets the kind of shopping experience they want.

Plan for the future.

Small businesses need to continue to be agile to survive in the marketplace. Consumers have become accustomed to convenience, so be prepared to meet customers where they are  — in-person and online.

They likely don’t think of your e-commerce store as being separate from your brick-and-mortar location and will expect the same easy checkout options. A disjointed experience can be detrimental to your business.

Know your customer.

This might seem obvious, but a little research can be the difference between success and failure. Before pouring money into additional marketing efforts or websites, make sure you know your audience’s preferences. Do they typically use computers, phones or tablets to shop? Make sure your new website is properly optimized so that you provide the expected experience. What social media platforms are your customers on? Each tool is unique and has different core demographics. Don’t waste time posting somewhere where your customers don’t go.

Go social.

Once you know which social media platforms are popular for your target customer, make daily posts about a variety of relatable and helpful topics. This can be a free way to drive traffic to your online and brick-and-mortar locations. Share promotions or limited-time deals and give your customers an opportunity to engage and share your brand online. You may even be able to set up a shop within the social media platform, making it easier than ever to shop with you.

Update your website.

If you didn’t previously have an online store, this is a huge opportunity to provide great branding for your business. Make sure your website updates can handle secure transactions as well as offer multiple payment options. This is a long-term investment that should be able to flex and grow with your business for many years. It is also the best place to share your story — what does your business say to the world and how can your website amplify that?

Don’t kick curbside.

The curbside pick-up option was a game changer for businesses and consumers alike. Customers with pets in their car or children in car seats can still get what they need quickly while avoiding the hassle of getting out of their vehicles. Continuing to provide this convenience can set you apart from the competition. This goes for other convenient pick-up or delivery options as well.

Use an omni-channel approach.

This simply means having your efforts work in unison for the best customer experience. Your social media posts should direct consumers to your store or website, which in turn tells your story and makes sales. After the sale, you can use email marketing to stay in touch with your customers, leading them back to your social media pages, store or website. It all works together to create one seamless customer journey, over and over again.

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