How COVID-19 Changed Business Forever

It’s easy to say that COVID-19 has changed virtually every aspect of life in the past nine months. However, while some temporary measureslike social distancing, mask-wearing, and avoiding public gatheringswill probably fade away, some other changes will be permanent.

In our business, it’s easy to see how the pandemic emphasized the importance of having a strong website. Even though some entrepreneurs will be anxiously waiting for things to go back to “normal,” we think many of the shifts are irreversible. In other words, all the reasons your website was critically important to your company in 2020 will continue into the future. That’s because we were already moving towards a digital-first business landscape.

As a full-service agency, we deal with everything: print ads, branding, package design, and digital strategies. But this year has been all about online business. The internet has been critically important to marketers for years, of course, but current circumstances have shown what is possible and accelerated a trend that was already in motion.

What does this mean for you and your business going forward? Let’s look at a few things that are already becoming apparent…

Your Website is the Primary Point of Contact for Your Business

In many ways, your website is your most important piece of real estate, your best employee, and your biggest source of referrals all in one. That’s because it can be seen and interacted with by many times more visitors than you, your building, or all of your employees combined. That’s especially true if you’re using search engine optimization and social media to their fullest powers.

When you have a strong website in place it enhances your credibility. It’s easier for people to trust you, and to understand the unique advantages of your products or services. In order to gain these benefits, though, your website has to actually be impressive. It also helps if you can use interactive toolslike online chat and real-time social media feedsto engage visitors from the first moment they arrive.

It’s Not Just about Looks Anymore

Although we are in the “business web design” industry, we recognize that term has become something of a misnomer. That’s because the design (or aesthetics) of a website are no longer the primary or only consideration. What you can do with your pages is just as important as the way they look.

We’ve already mentioned the big benefits that come with using online chat to engage with visitors directly in real-time. What we have also seen this year is that ecommerce plugins, online scheduling tools, and video training modulesto name just a fewcan all make a website more valuable. These kinds of features boost revenue, save money, and make it more convenient for customers to do business with you.

COVID-19 Will Pass but Digital Business is Here to Stay

Speaking of decreased costs and increased revenue, it’s important to remember that bottom-line considerations have been driving business website upgrades for many years. There are a lot of business owners out there who only made changes to their websites out of necessity in 2020. Now that they’ve seen the benefits, though, they won’t be going back.

There aren’t many silver linings to the struggles we have seen in 2020. However, it’s never a bad thing when entrepreneurs and executives can discover lasting ways to find customers or save money. That’s why it’s a safe bet that the “new normal” of relying on business websites is going to be with us even as the pandemic stops being an ongoing concern.

How to Prepare Your Ecommerce Site for an Unusual 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

In a normal year, this would be the point on the calendar where we would be speaking to our clients about changes, additions, and improvements to their online stores. After all, nearly half of all ecommerce sales are made through the holiday season.

Of course, this is anything but a normal year, and as a consequence, many business owners are scrambling for answers and directions.

If you’re like most of the people we talk to, you’re wondering whether you should be playing offense or defense. You’re looking to save money due to an uncertain economy and take advantage of the marketing opportunities that are just around the corner. How can you walk this tightrope and make smart decisions for 2020?

To help you maximize your profitability this Fall, here are seven tips we think you should follow…

1. Pay Attention to Your Website Audit

Typically, we would begin helping our clients to prepare for the holiday shopping season by auditing their existing website and online store. This involves taking a deep dive into their HTML to look for coding errors, security vulnerabilities, search engine visibility, and technical issues like broken links.

That’s an important starting point in any environment, but especially in the economy we are currently facing. You can’t afford to let simple unseen errors affect your ability to attract customers or engage with them. So, order a website audit today and take the time to go over the results with your web design partner.

2. Upgrade Your Shopping Cart for Upsells

The prevailing wisdom in the world of ecommerce is that customers might be a little more jittery than usual this fall. That means you have to maximize the value of every visit and sale. One good way to do that is by generating upsell opportunities with special offers that appear at the time of checkout.

These kinds of last-minute add-ons and combinations are easy for buyers to say yes to, but they require more than an entry-level shopping cart solution. Why not look at the tools installed in your online store and see if a few simple improvements could help you double your sales volume in the coming months?

3. Develop a Smart PPC Strategy

Should you be increasing your pay-per-click advertising (PPC) budget to attract more buyers in a choppy economy, or pulling back to save money? The best answer might be “both.”

Look into the history of your PPC campaigns to see if there are clear trends. You certainly don’t want to pull back on your profitable ads, particularly if they are still working in 2020. At the same time, though, you may consider cutting off marginal or speculative ads for a while. In other words, focus on your winners and cut off any ads that aren’t performing for the next few months.

4. Lean into Retargeting Ads

Although we’ve already mentioned PPC strategies, retargeting ads deserves special mention. Since maximizing value per customer (VPC) is likely to be your top priority for the 2020 shopping season, you want to convert as many high-dollar sales as possible. That means giving buyers second and third chances with retargeting.

You don’t want to go crazy and blow through your marketing budget, of course, but consider throwing additional dollars at potential buyers who are looking into your most profitable products. You may be able to turn more of those exposures into sales and lower your ad costs, particularly if you follow the advice given in the last tip.

5. Use Targeted Content to Your Advantage

It’s easy to forget that free content is often more effective than ads when it comes to drawing in traffic and generating conversions. That’s especially true when you plan ahead.

In recent years, our clients have done particularly well by publishing buying guides, online video demonstrations, and customer testimonials. These all reassure visitors that they are making good decisions and will be happy with their purchases. In other words, they reduce the sense of fear that so many customers feel when it comes to checking out, particularly if they aren’t familiar with your products. Why not use these pieces of content to make your store more profitable this Fall?

6. Build Adaptability into Your Online Marketing Plan

No one can really say with any certainty what the next few months will be like. The best any of us can do is to make good plans, search for opportunities to get ahead, and then stay adaptable.

There are a lot of ways you can be flexible with your holiday season ecommerce strategy. You can build two or three sets of promotions and then let week-two-week analytics guide your strategy. You could prepare various ads, landing pages, and email blasts for different scenarios. You could even activate or hide certain parts of your online store, changing prices and promotions on the fly. The more uncertain you feel about the Fall season, the more contingency plans you should have in place.

7. Start Planning Today

It’s possible that our most important piece of advice is to simply get started on your Fall strategy today if you haven’t already. We advise our clients and readers to get an early jump on ecommerce preparations every year, but in 2020 it’s even more crucial.

Savvy business owners and executives are already following the advice we’ve laid out in this article, knowing that they may have to adjust their plans and ideas as they go. That’s going to be almost impossible if you wait until the last minute. It’s much better to spend a few hours putting together an email, social, or ad campaign that you won’t need than it is to find yourself scrambling to create one when you’re desperate to generate online sales.

Need Expert Help with Your Ecommerce Strategy?

It’s never easy to make good online marketing decisions on your own, and the current economic environment hasn’t helped anything. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert in web design, search engine optimization, or pay-per-click advertising to maximize the sales from your ecommerce site. You just have to have a team of experts who are willing to learn about your business and give you the right advice.

5 Quick Tips on Selling More Through Your Business Website

When lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were first being put into place, savvy business owners moved to institute ecommerce features on to their websites. They recognized that if buyers couldn’t visit them in person, they’d have to find new ways to generate revenue. That forethought has paid off, with some estimates suggesting online sales have doubled compared to the same quarter last year.

However, while some business owners took immediate action, others decided to take a wait-and-see approach. That was understandable, but customers are largely deciding to stay home. That means that this is the perfect time to upgrade the ecommerce features on your website.

If you don’t currently have the ability to sell online, this should be your cue to start. Alternatively, if you can already make money through your web pages you might want to expand your capabilities and attract more revenue.

No matter which of those categories your business falls into, we want to give you some actionable advice that will help. Let’s look at five ways you can start to sell more through your business website starting today

1. Add a Shopping Cart

You can’t sell anything through your website without some mechanism to process transactions and collect money. In most instances, that’s going to mean installing some kind of shopping cart that pairs with a merchant account.

These solutions are easy to find and implementing them is not complex from a technical or programming standpoint. At the same time, just deciding to sell things online isn’t necessarily as simple as it might seem. You definitely want to take care in choosing the right shopping cart and merchant solution for your business. Getting things wrong could cost you a lot of money, create a great deal of hassle for your customers, and even lead to other disruptions in your business or website.

For example, it goes without saying that you want your shopping cart software to be as secure as possible. You’ll also want to know that it’s easy to use, both for yourself and your customers. It has to be compatible with the content management system you’re using, and it always helps if the product is inexpensive. 

On top of that, there may be certain features you require, like custom specifications or discounts for various order sizes. You might not find those in the simplest shopping cart solutions, or you might need a web developer to help you put the right settings into place.

As a rule of thumb, we always recommend you work with an experienced web team when choosing and installing merchant features on your small business website. It’s not an expensive or time-consuming process, but it’s one you can’t afford to get wrong.

2. Create Online Demos Customers Can View

It’s one thing to have the ability to sell products and services online, and another thing to actually generate orders. Often, what’s truly important to a small business isn’t the technical tools needed to accept payments but the skill and expertise of a master salesperson.

You’re never going to be able to completely duplicate face-to-face contact online, but you can get a lot closer with online demo videos or interactive presentations. These allow you, or a member of your team, to walk a potential buyer through the features and benefits of a product before making a decision.

In some ways an online video presentation can be even better than a live demo. In person you might forget to mention something crucial or struggle with a difficult question. When you’re working from a script, and with ideal lighting and backdrops, you can put your very best foot forward. Even better, you can film a presentation once and then have it seen by dozens or hundreds of buyers. You can even share it on your social profiles and in an email newsletter.

Putting together online sales presentations does take a bit of work, but most of our clients can batch the task into a single day. Then, they not only have the tools they need to sell more products and services online, but also a way to pre-qualify buyers and reduce complaints or returns.

The cost of video production and editing has gone down steadily over the past decade as broadband-speed connections have come to rural areas and mobile devices. Video is much more powerful as a sales tool than plain text and images, so why not make the most of it?

3. Integrate Live Chat Features

While you can use online video to intrigue and motivate buyers, your business might be one where customers are going to have lots of questions. They might need to consider specific use cases, or simply get more information before making a final decision.

In those cases, having live chat features on your website can be a game-changer. When you or your employees are standing by, ready to address specific issues as needed, a major obstacle to closing the sale is removed. Prospects no longer have to go without the details or interaction they might need to make them feel comfortable taking the next step.

Online chat features are easy to install, although (as in shopping carts) you’ll want to make sure they are safe, compatible, and convenient. Some will allow customers to contact you or a team member directly; others can be programmed to automatically answer simple and frequent queries.

No matter how straightforward or complex you want to go, however, there is a lot of value in letting a potential buyer see that someone is standing by to assist them with their order or to tackle a quick question. That’s especially true when you consider that someone who is interested right now might not necessarily return to your website to get the answer they need later.

4. Create Upsell Opportunities

In the real world, you and your employees probably look for upsell and add-on opportunities so often it has become second nature. From asking someone “do you want fries with that?” to suggesting a maintenance plan, businesses are always finding ways to increase revenueand value for their customers—by putting more into each sale.

If you have a simple shopping cart on your website, though, you might not be able to do the same. That would mean you’re probably missing out on huge amounts of revenue because your average sale price is going to be a lot lower than normal. It could also mean buyers aren’t getting the little “extras” that would make them happier with their decision later.

The answer, of course, is to integrate smart ecommerce features into your business website that correlate certain products and services with one another. As an example, if someone were purchasing a shirt from you, they might be interested in another similar item the same size. Or, if they were booking a service to clean up leaves in the Fall, they might also be interested in snow removal this Winter.

These are just simple examples, but you get the idea. If there is something you would normally sell to a customer at the time you check them out or write up an invoice, they need to be offered the same product or service (at a minimum) when they finish a transaction on your website. That’s not hard to set up with your web design team, and you’ll definitely see the difference in your bottom line.

5. Don’t Forget About Inventory and Fulfillment  

To this point we’ve looked at a few tools and solutions that can increase your sales, but don’t forget about everything that happens after an order has been placed.

Buyers are always impatient to know when their items will be shipped and delivered, but that’s particularly true this year when so many industries and supply lines have been disrupted. If you’re going to add merchant features to your website, or improve the ones you have, it makes sense to address inventory and fulfillment.

You can put automated systems in place that notify customers about the status of their orders and help them keep track of shipping. You can even combine inventory and ecommerce platforms so shoppers can see what’s available on your website in real time.

These sorts of add-ons can increase sales, but more importantly they lower your customer service burden. When buyers can get the information they need about their transactions directly from your website, they don’t have to call or email your team.

As with the other improvements we suggested, adding inventory and fulfillment tools to your website doesn’t have to be a huge, expensive project. If you’re already thinking about raising your ecommerce capabilities this might be a good time to consider it.