Since mid-March and the onset of the global pandemic, small businesses of all shapes and sizes have been scrambling to pivot–and improve upon–their e-commerce presence. With everyone shopping, working, eating and socializing almost exclusively from home on our devices, having a strong digital brand has never been more important for business survival.

Research from 99designs shows that more than a quarter of all small businesses surveyed this spring said they were considering a website redesign (and 66% of those without a site now in the process of creating one) in response to Covid. What’s more, 46% of SMBs are planning or are actively rolling out e=commerce capabilities as a result of the pandemic.

If yours is one of the millions of businesses moving your goods and services from brick-and-mortar to an online offering, how can you easily create an e-commerce experience that will stand the test of time, through COVID and beyond? Here are three key considerations.

  1. Resist rushing to market without considering your brand’s authentic identity and mission

Taking fast action can be critical in times of crisis, but not at the expense of your brand’s integrity, and that’s especially true when it comes to ecommerce. Keep in mind that today customers have more options than ever online – and expectations are high. Rushing to market too quickly can cost you the opportunity to truly define a point of differentiation. Taking a more thoughtful and deliberate approach allows you to create unique digital touchpoints for your customers and will ensure your ecommerce experience stands the test of time.

  1. Create a compelling online storefront

Everyone knows the value of an eye-catching window display and clever signage in the brick-and-mortar world. So it shouldn’t be surprising that when it comes to e-commerce, your website–particularly the homepage–is essentially your brand’s digital window. Considering that it takes just about 0.05 seconds for customers to form an opinion of a website, the importance of that first landing page cannot be overstated.

Alongside eye-catching and consistent branding across all pages, it pays to invest in high quality professional visual content, alongside compelling copy that provides specific and relevant information about your products and services.

Good e-commerce design puts the customer at its center. It needs to be attractive but it also needs to be intuitive and easy to navigate so that shopping with you is a seamless and frictionless experience. Clean, simple design will also help convert customers who are glued to their mobile devices: With an estimated 45% of all online purchases in the US made from smartphones in 2020, you’ll need to make sure your site is optimized for mobile as well.

  1. Packaging as a “real world” customer touchpoint

So, you’ve revamped your website, optimized it for mobile, set up an Instagram profile and blog to pump out content. Now you’re ready to start selling, right? But actually, there’s one more crucial step: the packaging in which you’ll be shipping those products to customers. Realistically packaging is a key extension of your digital–and offline–brand.

Keep in mind that during an online purchase, your packaging is the first (and most likely the only) physical interaction customers will have with your brand. Rather than just a vessel for delivering a product, your packaging–if done right–can actually function as an in-home experience.

Of course, your packaging design should reflect the rest of your visual brand, meaning the colors, fonts as well as materials used should all align with your overall aesthetic. But you can and should also be creative.

Spend time thinking about everything from the outer packaging (what it is shipped in) to what’s inside, so the product itself and any labels, tags or postcards you want to include. Each of these elements offers a chance to recreate the visual and sensory experience we are used to having in store.

Creating an effective e-commerce experience means thinking about the long term goals for your brand. Investing in your brand strategy from day one, as well as thoughtful and intentional design through all your digital and offline channels, will set you up for success. Whether you’re interacting with customers online or in-person, taking the time to find creative ways to leave a lasting impression will ensure your brand stays front of mind for many years to come.

Shayne Tilley is Head of Marketing at 99designs, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. Wrangler of collaboration, diversity, and creativity to help bring more opportunities to people all around the world.

E-commerce design stock photo by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock