You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry that wasn’t disrupted, or at least deeply changed, by the COVID-fueled realities of 2020. As foot traffic to physical stores evaporated overnight and government aid was a rare sight, small retailers had to act quickly to keep their doors open. Scores of businesses ended up just hanging on or closing their doors permanently, while others required quick pivots to stay afloat. But for many in the e-commerce industry, the story has been one of boom rather than bust.

The massive shift away from physical stores, necessitated by worldwide lockdowns, has accelerated retail’s move online by roughly five years. And, it’s believed that this pandemic-led boost isn’t temporary. This heightened level of e-commerce activity is here to stay.

At Sendle, we saw small business shipping grow 65% globally in 2020. Going into 2021, we see no signs of that slowing down. Working with hundreds of small businesses navigating the new normal, we’ve seen many who have managed to grow their business during these strange times while others are still trying to pivot.

More consumer dollars are up for grabs online than ever before. What an incredible time for small businesses to make the most of the online boom by competing with the big guys.

Here are 5 ways your small business can take advantage of the new normal of online shopping:

Deliver simplicity during challenging times

One of the key ingredients in Amazon’s success is simplicity. They don’t dazzle their customers with too many decisions. They just make it super easy to buy.

When life is otherwise complicated, customers need their online shopping to be as simple as possible. Customer experience can be the difference between a sale and an exit.

Once a customer has found what they want, you can offer them a seamless end-to-end selling, payment, and shipping experience. Remove the friction and reap the rewards.

Everyone loves shopping, but no one loves paying.

With a simple and intuitive checkout experience, your customers won’t second guess their purchase. Payment platforms like Stripe and Square provide all the payment options your customer expects and makes the process easy and friction-free.

Likewise, their shipping experience doesn’t need to be stressful.

Clear shipping policies can go a long way to assuring your customers that their shipment will get there safely and soundly. Include processing times, shipping methods, and delivery times in your shipping policy and provide easy tracking so they can watch it travel right to their door.

By offering flat-rate or free shipping to your customers and communicating it early on, they will know exactly what to expect when they get to checkout.

Build resilience and flexibility into your operations

In 2021, flexibility will be more critical than ever—particularly when it comes to your supply chain, logistics, and shipping.

Take the shipping crises of 2020—long delays and painful surcharges for small businesses across the country. The unprecedented package volume precipitated a severe lack of predictability for the whole industry.

As a retailer, think about the mission-critical parts of your business and give yourself options by diversifying your supply chain. When it comes to sourcing materials or products, go with multiple vendors so you have a solid option to fall back on if things go wrong.

The same goes for your shipping options. Diversifying who you ship with puts you in the position to adapt more quickly to issues as they arise. You’ll have more control over your business, your costs, and most importantly, your customers’ experience.

When you build in flexibility, you not only have more options year-round, but you’ll be more resilient against challenges when the unexpected happens.

Appeal to the growing demand for environmental responsibility 

Retailers and brands of all sizes are beginning to understand that the environmental impact of their business operations truly matters—not only to the planet but to their customers as well.

Six in ten consumers are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce their environmental impact. And that sentiment is growing.

According to a recent survey, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted consumer attitudes further, with 90% saying they are equally or more concerned about environmental issues now.

With this shift towards sustainable shopping, businesses who show they are committed to sustainability can appeal to like-minded consumers, drive loyalty, and make a difference at the same time.

We’ve seen thousands of small businesses commit to sustainability in a multitude of ways.

They focus on getting sustainable materials into the products they sell, many use compostable packaging so less waste ends up in landfills, and they use Sendle to ship their packages 100% carbon neutrally.

Build community around your product or service

As the e-commerce landscape becomes more competitive and it becomes more expensive to attract new customers, smaller businesses can stand out by building real connections and community with their customers in a way big businesses rarely can.

According to Shopify’s “The Future of Commerce 2021” report, half of consumers (50%) say they look for independently-owned businesses to support for reasons including supporting entrepreneurship, buying unique products, and experiencing good customer service.

Consumers want connection to the business they’re buying from, and want to feel they’re supporting something they believe in.

Think creatively about how to invest in building community around your business in an online format and find ways to keep them connected to your products, your story, and the purpose behind it all.

Stay agile, and be ready to adapt

While we can safely say 2021 will be a big year for e-commerce, no one can truly predict what else this year will hold for small businesses.

One thing we can control however is how we prepare for and handle change in the face of uncertainty.

Successful small businesses know they need to focus on building the right mindset. Stay open, optimistic, and plan for change the best you can so you can embrace it, adapt, and keep moving forward.

We all heard about the importance of pivots last year, and we saw thousands of businesses find their own ways to adapt to the changing landscape on the fly.

That’s a mindset shift that will only become more important as we look for ways to remain resilient and continue to thrive in 2021 and beyond.

James Chin Moody is co-founder and CEO of Sendle, the first 100% carbon neutral shipping carrier in the United States. A certified B Corp, Sendle is specifically designed to serve the needs of small e-commerce businesses by offering flat-rate, carbon neutral shipping that is simple, reliable and affordable. Connect with James at @jamesbmoody and learn more at Sendle.com.

E-commerce stock photo by William Potter/Shutterstock