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Small business e-commerce

How to calculate WHEN to move to e-commerce

Times are changing, and technology is moving faster than ever before. On top of that, a global pandemic put the trend towards online shopping into hyper speed. Not only is the need for more hygienic and socially distanced shopping years ahead of what had been predicted, but research also shows that these trends aren’t going anywhere.

Countless small brick-and-mortar businesses flocked to e-commerce, or strengthened their online presence, in order to survive COVID-19. More than a year after the quarantine was first declared, the circumstances have changed.

In lots of countries, the vaccination process is well underway, and some countries managed to escape the pandemic before vaccinations even started rolling out. The need to move online isn’t quite as urgent for survival anymore, which means that brands facing this decision now have the opportunity to really weigh the pros and cons.

These accelerated e-commerce trends tell us that while right now might not be the best time for your specific brand to transition into e-commerce, playing the waiting game might very well be a losing strategy.

This means that the question isn’t if you should be moving into e-commerce, but when. Here are two fundamental questions to ask yourself when making this decision.

Are you meeting a need?

This is a tricky question. Like I mentioned before, we’re further along the digitalization path than we expected to be at this point, and these online trends certainly aren’t going anywhere.

Consumers are more concerned with both safety and convenience, and there is plenty of reason to believe that this will be maintained in a post-COVID world. To a big extent, any move towards e-commerce is technically meeting consumer needs in this way.

How high up on your own consumers’ lists of priorities is this digital shift? This is something you can learn from your own analytics. Even without an e-commerce platform, chances are you’re running consumer behavior and related analytics in some fashion or another. Checking this data can let you know if your target audience is tech-savvy enough to make this digital transition profitable, or if a more gradual approach is necessary.

Another thing to consider is that an online presence doesn’t have to look like a full-blown e-commerce store. Social media and other online marketing campaigns aren’t the only ways of moving towards e-commerce this way. Picture a local coffee shop having an online platform that allows orders to be placed ahead of time for pickup. Similarly, the coffee shop might open an online store that delivers their artisanal, freshly ground coffee, or branded mugs and clothing. These are smaller transitions that don’t mean a reflection of the full brick-and-mortar business in an online store.

All of this being said, there is a lot more to shifting towards this online vendor model than “just setting up a website.”

Does it fit your business model?

Time and money. They’re the basic building blocks of any business model, and as much as a lot of people love to overlook it, they’re fundamental in building a great website.

Building and polishing a great brand personality and reputation isn’t always an easy job in person, but it’s one we’ve gotten used to. Doing the same online can be a completely different game, and often for reasons we take for granted.

Some of these tricky details are easy to spot. A website needs to look great (and great design isn’t cheap!), the on-site copy needs to be immaculate (and cheap copywriting looks cheap!), the images need to be of great quality, etc.

Some things, however, are more behind the scenes. Your content needs to be optimized for search engines, your links can’t be broken (site maintenance is paramount), and don’t even dream of online profits if your site takes 10 seconds to load! In fact, a poorly built and maintained website that loads slowly and isn’t easy to navigate is probably going to end up doing more harm than good to your brand image and reputation.

The point here? Managing an e-commerce aspect of your brand isn’t just “putting up a website.” It’s a careful, time and money-consuming process that not only needs to be paid for initially, but will cost money to maintain and update as technology, trends, and your brand all progress.

So, what’s the formula?

Truthfully, there is no formula for this. The trends show that you’re better off making this movement sooner than later. And as 2020 and 2021 have shown us, sooner might mean a lot sooner than we thought.

As far as making smart decisions for your business, a local and personal cost-to-benefit analysis is going to need to come first. Ask yourself:

  • Is my target audience likely to embrace a move to online?
  • Do my products/services make sense on an online store, or do I need to diversify?
  • Can I afford the time and money that goes into an online store?

It’s tough to give an exact, cut-and-dry formula, but if your answer to each of these questions is yes… It might just be the right time.

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Alex Borzo

Alex Borzo

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A content contributor at Amber Engine, a software company passionate about eCommerce