By Arthur Lam, Director of Marketing – UK, Ireland and the Nordics, at UPS
The pandemic has had a significant impact on small retailers, as many independent shops were forced to close during the height of national lockdowns. The gap between bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce widened as consumers moved online at pace. Digital-savvy retailers pivoted easily while those without an online option struggled to respond to the demand.
Despite a return to normality in the coming months, our recent survey suggests a permanent shift in consumer buying habits, with online shopping leading the charge. Published in UPS’s Smart E-commerce Report, our research reveals 67 per cent of UK adults intend to continue purchasing online once lockdown is lifted, with 43 per cent wanting to see small and independent retailers offer an online option.
At the start of the pandemic, there were 5.94 million small businesses, accounting for 99.9 per cent of the business population nationwide, according to FSB statistics. Almost 18 months into the pandemic, research by Simply Business has revealed that over 840,000 small business owners aren’t sure if their business will ever return to pre-pandemic trading levels. It is therefore critical that small retailers accelerate a digital approach to meet new customer demands.
Small businesses should consider the following when making the decision to set up their business online:
Empower your customers
Online customers have more choice in terms of places and methods to shop than ever before. Add to this increasingly short attention spans, and smaller retailers have their work cut out to attract online shoppers and make the experience quick and easy.
According to our research, one third (33 per cent) of UK consumers prefer shopping online because they receive more information about the products they are interested in. My advice is to always provide a clear product description, try to anticipate questions in advance, and be transparent when it comes to the cost of the item.
Successful online retailers do well because they invest time to drill into the data to help inform business decisions. Investing in simple web analytics can tell you a lot about your customers, from browsing habits to which promotions or product information have led to sales. By providing customers with insightful information on your website, they will feel more empowered to make purchasing decisions that will benefit your business.
Make it convenient
Our research shows that convenience is the top factor for shopping online rather than in-store. Over half (57 per cent) say it’s now more suitable to have items delivered to their door, with a further 48 per cent believing it’s quicker to shop online compared to in-store.
From browsing and purchasing to delivery options and concise communication, customers will no longer accept a below-par digital experience. Small retailers need to invest in seamless online options to stay relevant and compete in a challenging market.
Additionally, it’s important to partner with a shipping provider that will ensure you are able to satisfy customers with a range of convenient delivery options. As people begin to return to work, consumers are more likely to be away from home and therefore more likely to miss package delivery attempts. When you offer alternative delivery locations, you solve those problems and encourage more frequent purchases.
Develop a returns strategy
Ecommerce has not only transformed the ways that people discover and buy items, it’s also changed how they deal with unwanted purchases, which is driving the need for businesses to reconsider their returns process. According to our survey, 69 per cent of customers are less likely to make a repeat purchase from a retailer if they must pay for returns and 40 per cent of respondents would like to see small and independent retailers offer free returns for online purchases.
Handling returns and exchanges can be a challenge for all retailers but for small businesses they can be a serious drain on resources. The best way to reduce return rates is to help customers make informed purchase decisions at the outset. Making sure your website includes comprehensive product information, options to ask any questions, and quality images and videos can go a long way to reducing the need for returns and, in turn, increase customer satisfaction.