E-Commerce Opportunities During a Pandemic

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As if running a business wasn’t hard enough, along comes the COVID-19 pandemic to disrupt life in ways that seem Hollywoodesque.

We are in unprecedented times. This pandemic has had huge impacts on our physical and economic well being. Business practice and consumer behavior was forced to make drastic changes in a matter of days.

If you’re one of the millions of business owners that has had to close up shop or you’re an employee that has been laid off, we want to provide you with resources that could help you protect your income by either starting a business online or re-purposing and converting an existing brick and mortar business to a digital one.

Even in times of crises opportunities emerge

We don’t want to trivialize or downplay the impact that COVID-19 has had on millions of people.

If your business has been suddenly shuttered or you have been laid off it is in no way your fault. No one could have predicted these circumstances six months ago and much less prepared for this sudden economic slowdown.

However, for those needing a new source of income and want to continue growing their business, the solution for you could be to move your business to the online arena.

Starting or transitioning a business during tough economic times seems absurd. With so many people out of work and businesses closed, you would think that money is simply no longer flowing - except in and out of essential businesses.

But this hasn’t been the case. The data shows that online shopping has actually spiked as millions of people around the globe practice stay-at-home measures.

Trends in ecommerce in the initial weeks of the pandemic: - Italy was one of the countries with the highest number of registered cases of COVID-19, yet online retail sales registered a peak during the month of March with an increase of 90% compared to the same period of the previous year

Check out these interactive maps and graphs of ecommerce trends to see the most up to date market numbers. Keep in mind that these figures are ever-evolving and updated every seven days. The map shows that, compared to the same time last year:

  • Ecommerce revenue for the United States increased during the winter months leading to a peak of 59% in the first week of April
  • Similarly, Mexico, after an initial drop in sales in February, saw increased sales in March and has also enjoyed a 50% increase going into April

As you can see, there are opportunities in business even in uncertain times. The above shows how different areas of the digital economy are experiencing significant growth, which reflects greater activity and demand in online purchases. Consumption that traditionally occurred at a physical point, today is migrating rapidly to the internet, such as food delivery, educational training, some medical care, financial services and on-demand content on digital platforms.

The key to getting your business and personal finances through this pandemic will very likely depend on your willingness and ability to adapt - at least to what is in our control.

Now is the time to get your business online.

Realistic options for making an income online

Offer your services as a freelancer Writers & editors, web-designers, social media market managers, content strategists, programmers, and consultants represent just some of the most common freelancer roles.

As the world shifts to online activities related to quarantine restrictions, freelancers are needed to write articles, design programs, educate students, and assist businesses that are still open.

New freelancers often wonder how to get paying clients. One option for finding clients is to create a profile on platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, or People Per Hour where you can bid for jobs. This may help you get started, but be aware that bidding often leads to a race to the bottom in terms of payments. Plus, these platforms will take a cut of your earnings for themselves.

The other option is for you to make a small portfolio of your work, create a business web page, and seek out your own customers. You can use social media or even email to pitch potential clients.This will allow you to better control compensation and eliminate the ‘middle-man.’

Look for online employment Some online education platforms, tech companies, and medical transcriptionists agencies are hiring despite the pandemic.

It’s worth noting that offering freelance services or looking for online employment may be your quickest option for securing an income. At the same time, you can begin building online businesses for even more potential growth.

Leverage the internet to digitize your existing business Some ideas for those that already have a business are to sell your service or product online - even if some portion of the transaction occurs in person.

Restaurants could sell cookbooks or common kitchen items. Some have even converted their restaurants into grocery stores. A hair stylist could make videos or an online course for do-it-yourself styling while at home.

Join the ecommerce movement Selling both physical and/or digital products online is possible. You can either set up your own operation by creating a website or you can use third party ecommerce platforms. The truth is that learning to sell online is going to take some time, so be patient.

Online stores are popular because they offer a simple, fast and comfortable way to buy. Online stores operate 24 hours 365 days a year, so it allows you to sell all the time. In an online store you can sell products and non-physical things (digital books, classes, music, services, applications, etc.)

Four basic steps to open your online store

1. Carry out market research

Google Analytics and Facebook IQ offer you tools to perform a free and simple free market study. These tools will give you an estimate of local, national, and international demand of a given product or service as well as provide you insight of demographic data.

This analysis can help you determine if your product is a viable option or it can help you choose what to sell. Keep in mind that trends change. At the start of the pandemic people were panic buying and hoarding hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and certain foods. Now that a few weeks have passed, trends indicate that items for hair grooming, for example, are in high demand as people haven’t gone to get styled.

More ideas for products are listed below.

2. Select the product or service you are going to offer based on your research

You can sell with the products that you sold in your old business or ones that capture an audience based on your market research.

It isn't necessary to sell 20 products or services. In fact, that would be incredibly complicated. Instead, start with just one or a few within a niche.

3. Choose an ecommerce platform or design your own webpage

Ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Amazon offer services so that you don’t have to carry and ship your own merchandise. you can also sell on Ebay, Instagram, and Facebook.

Of course, these platforms are going to keep a portion of your revenue. However, due to the COVID pandemic, some platforms, like Shopify, are offering free membership for the first 90 days.

Also, many of the above platforms offer courses including how to sell on Instagram, tips for growing your store, and even on product photography.

These ecommerce platforms make opening your online store easy by simplifying the process for selecting a design for your store once this is done you can start uploading images and descriptions of the products you want to sell. In case you are not very familiar with the technology, several platforms even offer expert advice and assistance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created, in some areas, challenges related to supply chains. So do some basic research to make sure that any products that you would potentially order from abroad are still making it to the USA. Until now, this seems to be an issue for international shipping only.

If you don’t have a website already, you will need to make one by opening an account with a web-services host.

Common website hosts with affordable hosting services are Squarespace, Bluehost, HostGator, Wix, Weebly, and Wordpress.

Hosting a website does come with a cost of about $100-200/yr for a basic business webpage.

You can even use Instagram and Facebook as your store webpage and sell products directly from a business account or page.

4. Launch your store

Starting a completely new business online can be overwhelming. Keep things simple and consider using rapid prototyping to get up and running as quickly as possible, even if you don't have a perfect strategy yet or are missing lots of details.

You can refine your process as you go.

Tips for success

After creating your online store, your next goal is to attract visitors and convert them into customers. Keep your virtual store updated in terms of available products, payment and shipping methods, and user experience.

To promote your store and attract customers use social media - but be aware of ad cost. When starting out, don’t dump tons of money into social media ads. Instead, try to attract organic traffic to keep your expenses at a minimum.

If you do place paid ads, you can use tools like Google Smart Shopping to get your products in front of customers. Using Facebook ad function is also a great tool to use to find targeted audiences.

Create an email list (use or expand one that you grew with your previous business) in order to maintain a customer base and inform customers of new offers, services, or products.

Advantages & disadvantages of ecommerce platforms

Advantages: - Platforms (like Shopify or Amazon) offer ready-made web tools to get started quickly - It’s easy to create, customize, and adapt your online store to start selling in a short amount of time and you can also design a blog to promote your store with it - Some offer turnkey stores (for purchase) further minimizing the time to get started - Facilitate payment receipt via credit cards, digital payments, and non-U.S. currency - Automatic tax preparation so you do not have to worry as much about complicated tax preparation - Unlimited bandwidth, so you don't have to worry about paying more depending on the traffic of your store or visitors - Handle merchandise and order fulfillment. This is what’s known as dropshipping and enables you to avoid having to move your own inventory

Disadvantages:

  • You are not in full control of your store
  • A percentage of earning will be kept from you
  • Costs can add up

If you want more control, consider creating your own webpage or improving an existing one.

What items are in high demand?

Undoubtedly, the greatest demand is for food, detergents, cleaning products and items that provide protection from the virus. However, some of those products may be extremely difficult to obtain, or even unethical.

Other products that have seen growth include items needed or desired while working at home. Items such as home office furniture, office chairs, cushions, computer equipment, small toasters and coffee makers.

Items directed at keeping children entertained are also in high demand. These include toys, items for making crafts, personal care items, products for exercise, books, classes and educational courses.

Your decision on what to sell doesn’t need to depend on items that are directly or indirectly related to the current pandemic. What is important to realize is that people are still making a vast range of purchases online.

Summary To recap, if you are desperate for an income, freelancing or looking for online employment is probably your best option for quickly securing a paycheck.

If you have more time, or want to supplement income, you can explore the options for moving your business online or starting a new one altogether. Adaptability is key to success.

Try opening an online store, either to sell services and products from an existing business, or do something completely unrelated and sell products that are in high demand.

Be careful to understand what fees are required if you use an ecommerce platform or create a new website. However, the fees pale in comparison to common brick and mortar operations, but are still necessary to budget for.

Having success in any business takes time, and getting started online is not different. Be patient, refine things as you go, and continue to adapt.

Evan Thomas
Evan Thomas lives in Seattle and enjoys writing about personal finance, small business, and healthcare. He is passionate about improving people’s physical and financial well-being as well as exploring our great planet. You can find him at evanforcopy.com

Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information and insights, but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.

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