small businesses

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted consumers of every age and demographic to do more shopping online. As small businesses prepare for the upcoming holiday season, there are a host of considerations that owners must keep in mind, including how to keep shoppers safe in-store and how to manage increasing demand from online traffic. Amid all the uncertainty surrounding this year’s holiday season, one thing is certain: more consumers will be shopping digitally. In fact, a survey from Radial found that 60% of consumers plan to shop less in-store this holiday season due to fears of COVID-19.

With this in mind, many large retailers are making adjustments to their approach for the holidays, including changing in-store shopping hours and bolstering online operations. So, for small businesses, how can they align with changes in consumer preferences due to COVID-19 to serve customers effectively and efficiently this holiday season?

Small businesses should pay close attention to the end-to-end online customer journey and begin preparing their systems for the holiday season now.

Bring the in-store experience online

Consumers sacrificing in-store shopping this year will expect to have many of the same perks of physical shopping online. Businesses should invest in tools to provide assistance and opportunities they would receive in-store like the ability to “try on” products and guided customer support while browsing to help them make decisions and answer any questions they may have. They should also leverage social tools and considering investing in enhanced digital images with more specificity on product detail content.

Customers value brands that can support their shopping journey by providing clear information, expert insight, and well-timed input. To bring these aspects of the in-store experience online, retailers are investing in artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled chatbots and curation services to help customers navigate the ins and outs of the product catalog and routing to human experts when the shopper needs more detail. Many aspects of the in-store experience that shoppers have come to appreciate and expect should be translated into digital environments to bolster the customer experience.

Create a flexible checkout experience

Creating a simple, streamlined checkout process is key to delivering a positive experience online. Customers demand flexibility when it comes to payment options, accuracy, and security at the time of checkout. As a result, retailers of all sizes are exploring how to improve the convenience and safety of their checkout process by updating their point-of-sale systems across all channels, automating tax, and offering alternative payment options.

Creating a flexible checkout experience can encompass many things, including payment options, tax automation, and modular solutions to connect multiple channels. For payment options, customers expect to have options when they go to pay and expect to have alternative payment methods like mobile payment options from providers like PayPal or Apple Pay, as well as other options like buy online pick-up at the store. Consumers also want to know that their totals are being accurately charged at the time of checkout, so automating invoice line items, like sales tax, is critical to instilling confidence in customers at checkout. Enlisting digital tools to ensure a streamlined and secure checkout process is needed to keep customers happy throughout their online experience.

Optimize the post-checkout journey

The back-end of the customer journey is just as important to the overall experience as the customer-facing aspects. The back-end ecosystem of any online operation must ensure that customers are getting the most out of their purchase, fulfillment services, returns, and on-demand support. In the age of convenience, what happens post-checkout could make-or-break retailers if shipments are delayed, returns are difficult, or if customers can’t get the support they need.

For retailers, it’s important to note that no matter how complex your supply and delivery chain is, customers expect timely and seamless delivery. One creative way retailers are improving the post-checkout journey is through elevated onboarding. For example, cookware brand Equal Parts offers customers free access to a cooking coach with any purchase of Equal Parts merchandise to help customers build skills and confidence in the kitchen. This special attention to the post-checkout experience elevates the journey for customers and keeps them coming back.

Small Business Saturday 2020 is likely going to look different from years past. Small businesses will need to prepare their online channels for customers this year to not only reach customers but ensure that their experiences are top-notch. By up leveling the online shopping experience while customers are in the “store” from end-to-end, small businesses can reduce headaches this busy holiday season and create satisfied customers who will return all year long.

Megan Higgins is the VP and GM of eCommerce and Marketplaces, Avalara.

SBS stock photo by marekuliasz/Shutterstock