2020 has introduced new challenges to merchants running a small or medium-sized business. Despite large online marketplaces’ massive sales, consumers are more than willing to help small businesses. We partnered with Kickstand to poll e-commerce shoppers across North America about their e-commerce expectations and buying habits. We found that many have come to appreciate smaller online businesses through the pandemic. Ultimately, if you are a merchant operating a small to medium-size online business, you have opportunities to capitalize on. From offering a better array of shipping options, to being an expert on your products, to offering unique items that are harder to find on bigger marketplaces, you can grow your customer base. Let’s dig into our findings a bit more.
Consumers Want to Support Small Businesses
The pandemic has been hard for many small businesses. And as more of them start to shutter and customers spend more time indoors, there’s a unique opportunity for smaller brands. We found that 73% of consumers shop more with small businesses as a result of the pandemic.
While the benchmark has always been to try and offer delivery timeframes similar to the largest competitors, 74% of customers are willing to wait longer for their items to arrive in order to support small businesses. However, free shipping is still a big incentive, and only 61% are willing to pay for shipping to support small businesses. Lower still, 58% will pay more for products in order to help small businesses.
What Makes a Small Business Stand Out
This renewed support for smaller retailers—75% caring more about supporting small businesses than they did even a year ago—is due in large part to the experience offered. 73% of respondents felt that small businesses offer an overall better experience than big-box retailers. Talking with a store owner or with the small team running a business always instills more confidence and reassurance in customers. When talking to customer support representatives, the experience can be challenging.
The Items You Sell Matter
Customers’ willingness to find the item they want with less regard for price or shipping time shows that they are more likely to buy from you if you sell the items that someone wants. 65% say more unique product offerings make for a better overall experience when shopping from an SMB. Furthermore, 70% of respondents agree that unique product offerings are how SMBs win more customers. However, you can’t just stop by offering unique products. As stated above, three-quarters of respondents find SMBs to provide a better shopping experience. With the expectation that smaller businesses tend to offer a better shopping experience, you have to demonstrate your product knowledge and commitment to your customers.
Ways to Increase Business During COVID
Increase Lines of Communication
Email support is nice, but offering inbound chat support or phone support to shoppers guides customers to check out with you. Small businesses are often seen as domain experts, so positioning your sales support as a tailored experience for your customers can be the difference between an abandoned cart and a long-term customer. Using programs that offer live chat allows your customers to have immediate access to you or your team. And it’s not as expensive or difficult to set up as it may seem. And once it is available, you can set hours for the widget to appear on customers’ screens when they visit your website. Sometimes, even the best website copy or product description doesn’t answer a customer’s question as reassuringly as a real person does.
Offer More Shipping Options
Customers have varying preferences for how they want their items delivered. Offering one shipping option for your customers can make it appear that a brand values its higher-end items the same as a lower-end item that ships out in an envelope. Creating a range of shipping options for your customers to choose from does more than catch more sales that may slip due to slow delivery or finding a better deal elsewhere. It also elevates your brand—more dynamic shipping options create a larger operation in the minds of your customers. So, regardless of your operation’s size, customers can more easily put you in line with the bigger competition. In fact, 46% of customers want small businesses to offer more shipping options.
Be Transparent about Shipping Delays
We, along with our sister company, have found that customers are much more willing to wait for packages in 2020 over 2019. This is, of course, due to how the pandemic has increased delays across the board. However, this leniency from customers also hinges on transparency into shipping delays. No one wants to feel like they’ve been forgotten or ignored. And something as simple as an email letting your customer know that you’re still waiting to receive their back-ordered item can change a situation from a bad customer review into aligning with your customers.
Buying online and pic one is necessary for catering to your local customers through the pandemic. With in-person shopping slowly coming back, there are people that prefer buying online—and they’ll continue to. Merchants have had to keep up. Across the board, customers have increased their weekly online shopping from 28% in 2019 to 36% in 2020. By catering to customers both regionally and nationally, you can expand your reach.
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