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Opinion: Beyond the pandemic: Pivot to digital sales

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There’s no doubt you’re adapting your short-term business model. I’m asking you to look beyond these months of isolation to the customer landscape that will appear when the fog lifts. The market will be dramatically changed for both startups and established businesses.

People who have never made an online purchase before are using grocery pickup or buying e-gift cards to support their favorite local restaurant. The biggest hurdle for online platforms is adoption. This pandemic is forcing people to use online tools. Now they’re over that hump, they’ll be more digitally engaged for life.

Point of entry is a helpful marketing concept. People discover a problem and buy their first item to solve it. In the future, they often measure all other choices against the original product they chose. For years, Gillette mailed one of its razors to boys turning 18. Many of them initially used the razor just because it was there and in doing so discovered they loved it. Some have continued to purchase the same brand for years or even decades.

As people begin their online relationships with local retailers, make sure you’re the first and then wow them. They’ll have little reason to search elsewhere. Amazon is a default because of its name recognition, ease of use and fast delivery. You’ve got to compete with Amazon. Here’s how you can do it.

A lot of people have reservations about using Amazon, but continue to do so because of the convenience and speed. Your job is to make working with you easy. I’d also argue that you have the opportunity to get products into your customers’ hands even more quickly. By utilizing in-house drivers, delivery services and curbside pickup, customers could receive your product the same day.

Of course, you’ll need a website that displays your products or services and accepts payment. If you haven’t had success with e-commerce in the past, I invite you to look at your marketing plan. Your website is just like your brick-and-mortar store. It allows customers to purchase, but you still have to get traffic there. Social media, Google Shopping and search ads work well for short-term success, and optimizing your website for search will have a positive effect long-term.

Large online retailers utilize many marketing tactics to get you to order. They send reminder emails when you have items in your cart that you didn’t buy. They use dynamic display ads to show you items you may be interested in based on what you viewed. This technology is available to you, too.

Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program puts essentials on automatic reorder. Why can’t you do the same? Subscription programs help you predict sales to allow more consistent wholesale orders or production. If your products are a one-time purchase, ask customers if you can send them follow-up emails every few months with similar products.

You also have the opportunity to go above and beyond when it comes to customer service. Amazon can’t offer a thank you card in each order; the packaging is simple – not overly enjoyable to open. You can make personal connections with customers.

As a local business, you can leverage reviews from other locals because they hold more social proof than an anonymous star rating.

Encourage customers to post about your product on social media using a hashtag. Send them a link after purchase to review your product if they love it, and request they contact you directly if they’re not satisfied. Don’t be afraid to let them know how much it helps you. People want to make a difference for businesses they love.

Here’s a quick example of a business that’s pivoting: Soap Refill Station in downtown Springfield. It’s pivoted to offer product delivery just like the milkman. Leave out your empty bottles and receive a delivery on your doorstep. Not only is this business model convenient and time-saving, it’s also eco-friendly as well. I have a hard time believing that people will cancel their local soap delivery after the stay-at-home order has lifted.

More software companies are offering ways for small businesses to use the technologies once only available to the big guys. It can seem overwhelming to get started, but right now, you probably have a lot of extra time. Set up your business for success in the coming months and years.

You must be there when new customers are changing their purchasing habits. Once you set the bar high, they’ll be with you for life.

Jahana Uchtman is the founder of Springfield-based Your Digital Marketing Assistant, where she helps small businesses connect with customers online. She can be reached at
 jahana@yourdigitalmarketingassistant.com.

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