As we all know, COVID-19 has altered the way businesses have to operate. Companies are having to shift most of their operations online, and this includes selling goods to customers. Depending on the type of products you sell, or the services you offer, you can convert your brick-and-mortar store into an online business. If you are not sure where to start, we have got you covered. 

Here are the five steps you can take to transition from a physical storefront to an online business. 

Let Your Customers Know 

As businesses are being forced to shut down across the county, many people have to find alternative places to get their preferred items. So, if you are making a plan to create a way for customers to acquire your product online—or without contact—inform your customers. Even if you do not have the platforms in place, take a moment to plan ahead, and then let your customers know when they can potentially expect to order from you. You may also want to let them know when they can look forward to hearing more information if you are still working out the logistics. 

Set-Up an E-Commerce Platform 

Now, all of your customer-to-business processes have to go through online platforms. Fortunately, there are a variety of e-commerce platforms to look into. However, you need to select the best platforms for your needs. For example, if you want a platform that is easy to set-up and is user-friendly, Shopify may be the best option. However, if you need SEO support and desire more customization, Big Commerce may be worth a look. Also, don’t forget to look at the apps offered by your website builder and hosting service. Weebly, Squarespace, and Wix all have their own plug-ins that allow you to add e-commerce functionality to your website. 

Managing Inventory 

An online business requires you to keep a sharper eye on how you handle inventory. If you are in a location that has a shelter-in-place order, then it may not be possible for you to go to your brick-and-mortar store to manage your inventory. This situation may require you to have to use an offsite warehouse or house inventory at a personal location. 

Ultimately, you need to decide if you are going to accept inventory, where you will store it, and how to account for it. This step is where merchandising comes into play. Be sure you develop a robust system for tracking inventory, and that you are monitoring the cost of selling these items (cost of goods sold). If they are still in storage, your goods are assets and need to be counted as such on balance sheets and financial records. 

Determine How You Will Get Goods to Customers 

Again, a lot of this may depend on if you are in a city that has shelter-in-place orders. Nevertheless, if you live in a city or state where you can still travel to your workplace, you may want to offer curbside pick-up options for individuals (this can especially work for those offering goods like foods or other perishable items). In other cases, there are three other options: 

  • Ship the goods yourself – If you have a personal storage location, you can ship products directly to customers. 
  • Work with third-party suppliers – If you are storing items at an offsite warehouse, or have agreements with third-party suppliers, you can make arrangements for them to send products to customers as they order them (if they are operational). 
  • Use rideshare programs – Companies like Postmates are known to deliver food as well as other goods. You can use their services to get your products to your customers. 

Related: 5 Ways to Motivate Staff During COVID-19

Whichever method you choose, be sure to take the safety of yourself, your employees, and your customers into account and adapt your delivery plans to any announcements regarding quarantining made by government officials. 

Market Your Online Business Launch 

Now, it’s time to follow back up with your customers and even reach some new ones. Here are some strategies you can implement to reach your audience: 

  • Use your email list – This is where your email list is going to be an important resource. Inform your list about the launch of your online business as well as where they can purchase items, and how they can receive orders.
  • Entice others to sign up – This is a great time to invite others to join your email list. You may want to create an incentive to encourage customers to sign-up or provide discounts to get individuals to join. 
  • Use Facebook – You may want to create a Facebook page and invite customers to join for information on new product launches, delivery logistics, and information about how government policies are impacting when the business could be reopening. You can also use Facebook to develop targeted ads to reach current and existing customers. 
  • Create a business page on NextdoorNextdoor allows residents in a community to share information and recommendations about businesses in the area. You can create a page that allows you to market your business to local customers as well as interact with them. 
  • Become active on Instagram – According to Sprout Social, when users saw a product or service on Instagram, 46 percent made a purchase. So, if you haven’t already, create a business account. This type of account enables you to make the process of purchasing goods straightforward for users, post stories with hyperlinks, and monitor crucial analytics. 
  • Go live – We are at a unique time where social media allows you to connect with your customers online directly. You can host a live Q&A with customers, offer entertainment, update them on any new developments, and market products in real-time. The Village Market ATL has hosted a live DJ set to attract people to their business. Also, Stone Mountain-based coffee shop, Gilly Brew Bar, has used Instagram Live to interact with customers and answer questions about the store’s current status. This is a great time to get creative, so be on the lookout for ways to engage your audience further with live video. 

The Ability to Adapt in these Changing Times is Crucial 

It is not easy to have to change the course, especially if you have never run an online business. Fortunately, today’s technological advancements, and the rise of online purchasing, has made the transition to e-commerce much smoother. So, use the tips above as a starting point to develop a strategy for developing a temporary—or permanent—online business. 

Also, always remember to be safe and follow the necessary guidelines in your respective city, county, and state as you plan your logistics. 

We wish you the best as you prepare to shift how you do business. Be safe, take care, and continue to check back to ASBN for more tips and helpful resources. 

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