As we ring in the New Year for 2021, I don't have to be the first to tell you but a lot has changed for businesses in the U.S. For the past few years, there has been a slow shift in demand from brick and mortar retail to e-commerce. With COVID-19 still running rampant nationwide, the process has been accelerated. "In the first six months of the year, consumers spent $347.26 billion online with U.S. retailers, up 30% from $266.84 billion for the same period in 2019, according to a study done in August of 2020 by Digitalcommerce360.com. And with an $80 billion+ increase within one year, it is only expected to increase over time.
In the beginning, many businesses were struggling with the transition and were trying to stay afloat in the pandemic's rough waters. Some swam with the current, some are still stuck, and unfortunately, many have all but drowned. If you are reading this right now, ask yourself this question… What direction is my business currently swimming in? What direction do I want my business to swim? And where the hell is my damn life jacket?
With e-commerce coming to the forefront of consumer purchasing, it takes discussion, planning, and a bit of thinking outside of the box to stay current. Well, here at Freelance Crew, we want to help you out, point you in the right direction, and make you feel rest assured, you won't even need a life jacket. We want you and your business to stand tall among the others in the rough waters that are still ahead. So, we have for you the 4 Pillars of Building a Sustainable E-Commerce Business for you to stand tall on.
What is a business without consumers? If not for them, you would not have any business at all. This is first on the list because it begins and ends with the customer. We want to be treated the same, if not better, than we would if we were in the store. And to be able to view and purchase products with ease and no hassle. So in the digital age, what types of parallels can you make between in-person shopping and shopping online to make the two seamless?
First, start by keeping things organized. Not just your workstation, or paperwork, but e-mails and shared inboxes. This is a great way to keep track of customers, conversations, and purchasing habits. It also helps the customer service department out when an issue arises they can reference previous problems to resolve current ones. Remember, the first line of defense between you and a disgruntled customer is customer service. One rule of thumb that we try and strive for, is being proactive with customer service. If you see that the package is not going to arrive on time, don't wait for the customer to reach out to you, send them an e-mail letting them know their package might be a bit late. Sending a customer service e-mail out of the blue is a nice touch and lets the consumer know you value their business. *Pro-tip: Send customized e-mails to your customers. All email marketing platforms allow you to do this with ease.
As an e-commerce consumer, we want options and if you're like me, you want all the options and you want them now. Some consumers prefer to call the customer service line (if it still exists), but most prefer e-mail or social channels. Just look at this report by Forrester showing that 31% of customers report reaching out to a company via Twitter and 33% have contacted a company using Facebook while another 45% say they have used online chat. I remember a time when self serve checkout at the grocery store was a new thing. A lot of people like me feared that change and would still go to a regular check out line if I could. Slowly the self-serve checkout grew on me, now I groan every time I have to go through regular checkout.
The overview of this pillar is that everyone is starting to consume more online but to be mindful of how YOUR customer and demographic consumes.
Stuck at home with some time to kill during work hours? Go ahead and do it, everyone else is and now more than ever! A study done by a GlobalWebIndex survey states that, “social media users have grown by more than 10 percent over the past year". Ok, so big deal 10% like that's a huge increase, but considering our population teeters around 7.8 billion people currently, that means that more than half of the population of the world is on social media. With more people on social media more than ever, how do you capitalize on the faster-than-expected growth?
Start with the first thing customers will go to, your website. Improved user experience, positive ranking signal, and a more streamlined experience across all devices. These are the type of things that you should take into consideration when creating or revamping your site. Something as simple as having a minimalistic, flat, clean design can set you apart from other sites that seem clunky with too much "fluff". And if I can't figure out how to navigate through your webpage with ease, I will move on to the next website to fulfill my purchasing needs. And I would not be the only one, as 45% of consumers reported trying a new online retailer during the pandemic. There are increasingly more options to filter through now.
I typically agree with the point that content is king. But in the current climate, we suggest holding onto those two extra IG posts for the week and focus more on "posting with a purpose". Take the automatic post option of your social media accounts, roll your sleeves up and get dirty. Considering the current climate, some users may not have the means to purchase a product, so they won't be able to relate or will not want to relate for that matter. One other thing to consider when talking about today's climate, is that with certain current events going on around the world your post can come off tasteless or tacky. Be thoughtful of what you are posting and how it can affect your business directly.
It's been lonely, hasn't it? No one to talk to, tell you how funny you are, or how good you look in that new shirt. So you just @ your favorite clothing company telling them how good that t-shirt feels right now. It's been two days and no response, not even a like. What gives? Start focusing less on you and more on consumers. Even though many people are not willing to buy right now, likes, engagement, shares, retweets, are the new ROI (Return on Investment). Everyone has a phone these days so start engaging more with your mobile customers. Another issue that comes up often is that some sites do not offer payment options for mobile users. That is a sure-fire way to miss out on sales. Consumers don't want to pick an and item get to the checkout and not be able to buy. Get to know them, start polls, ask questions, stay involved, and answer that @ already!
As with any e-commerce company, you can also benefit from sustainable business practices. At the micro-level, you can start by not using plastic bottles, or going paperless, and started a recycling bin. But we are here for the bigger picture, aren't we? Go macro and start by partnering with an environmentally friendly company, help sponsor events, volunteer your time, and get your hands dirty this time. You can still consciously work on sustaining a profitable business but also working consciously on sustaining the environment for your future customers.
A study done in 2018 by Nielsen.com shows that millennials are more likely than Baby Boomers to forgo purchasing from one brand for another if that other brand is environmentally friendly. The article also states that more than half of millennials are more likely than 34% of their Baby Boomer counterparts to purchase products from environmentally friendly companies.
And it’s not just millennials that are so gung-ho on the eco-friendly side. An article written by Forbes Magazine goes on to say that, "62% of Generation Z, who will begin entering the workforce this year (2019) prefer to buy from sustainable brands on par with our findings for Millennials." Meaning that people caring about the environment and making conscious purchase decisions is not going to stop any time soon.
Just even sharing the post or aligning with non-profit organizations will say a lot about your company and shows that you are making a concerted effort in making a difference in the world. The main goal of this pillar is to support long-term growth without negatively impacting the environment. And with an e-commerce business sustaining the economic pillar is a much easier task than most other pillars. The UN World Commission on Environment Development said it best, "environmental sustainability is about acting in a way that ensures future generations have the natural resources available to live an equal, if not better, way of life as current generations." So do your part of the future.
Business economics encompasses subjects such as product factors, the concept of scarcity, distribution, and consumption. You could say that the economic pillar could encompass just about every other pillar of sustainability but it holds on its own.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the fall of brick and mortar stores and that with having an e-commerce business, you did not have to deal with having a physical location to work out of. No need to hire a staff, open up shop every day, payroll, etc. You can focus more on providing a quality profit but also maintaining growth in the process. It's one less thing to worry about when starting your business.
But other issues will arise such as the concept of scarcity. For example, say your online store has 4 t-shirts left in stock and you need to get rid of them before you put the new line of shirts up. The "only 4 left" example puts the consumer in the sudden buy quickly or miss out decision. Using this sense of urgency can help in conversion rates and consumers buying more products in-store. What you're letting the consumer know is that this product is of high value since there are only 4 left and may be rare or difficult to attain later.
Distribution and consumption deal with how your goods and services are consumed. Is what you're selling a physical item, or are you selling a service? How does your consumer take in your product? What you want the consumer to become is interdependent with the service you provide so that you can have a long-standing relationship and continued business for the future.
When you break it down to what the economy is, it's all about conserving resources in the end. The UK Government in an annual report stated that "Maintaining high and stable levels of economic growth is one of the key objectives of development. Abandoning economic sustainability is not an option. But development is more than just economic growth. The quality of growth matters as well as the quantity."
So how are you feeling? Do you feel less seasick? Or do you need more Dramamine? Hopefully, with the help of this article, we help you can go out and swim confidently in the rough waters still ahead. Keep your E-Commerce business floating on to calmer waters. And if you have any questions or need some help in the process, let us know. We have a few extra life vests we can throw your way.