Building strong digital infrastructure is paramount to long-term success—or even survival—in the business environment today. Digital innovation has spawned entire industries, paved the way to unprecedented efficiencies, and introduced groundbreaking ways for businesses to connect with consumers. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it comes as no surprise that digital infrastructure is playing a principal role in sustaining the global economy.
An emerging trend
In the last decade, e-commerce has more than tripled in its share of total U.S. retail sales. Small- and mid-sized businesses alike are using digital platforms to deliver goods that were once available only through brick-and-mortar vendors. After posting strong first-quarter earnings, Shopify surpassed Royal Bank of Canada to become the most valued company in Canada since 2015.
Shopify’s milestone should be heeded as a sign for businesses everywhere that the retail landscape is about to undertake a drastic transformation. The coronavirus is not altering the course of the future, but merely accelerating a shift that was already in motion long before the outbreak—and one that will continue to change the business world long after it is over.
COVID-19 expedites the shift to digital
Since the beginning of the global pandemic, companies from around the world have been recognizing a surge in e-commerce activity. From Instacart’s 300% year-over-year demand increase to Amazon hiring north of 100,000 new warehouse workers, the circumstances created by the coronavirus is demonstrating the growing importance for businesses to establish a reliable and robust online presence.
The pandemic has also presented businesses with a ripe opportunity to target a different demographic—one that was previously more wary of digitalization. As a result of COVID-19, late-adopter segments that tend to be older in age are now forced to change their buying habits en masse. Online shopping, a term once synonymous with millennials and Gen Z, has been introduced to a new clientele that is pleasantly surprised by the convenience and accessibility at their fingertips.
These consumers, who have been obliged to order groceries through apps and shop for tools on Amazon during this strange time, have rapidly swelled the ranks of loyal online shoppers.
The winding road ahead
The path forward for traditional businesses may not be an effortless one. Although it can be discouraging to see how tech-savvy some competitors already are, it is not too late to catch up. The most effective approach to closing this gap will be moving as quickly as possible to establish a strong digital presence. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of options available to support businesses looking to make this transition.
Shopify is one simple mechanism to move into the digital space. With a 90-day free trial and various pricing schemes to accommodate businesses of different scales, getting started with Shopify requires little effort—simply register the business to a suitable plan and Shopify provides the tools to begin building an owned e-commerce platform.
If building owned platforms appear too daunting for the immediate future, then becoming a third-party seller on Amazon Marketplace is another starting point. Vendors can choose the type of account that aligns best with business operations before beginning to sell. This low-cost, low-risk option provides businesses with the opportunity to tap into the existing customers of Amazon and leverage the resources of the e-commerce giant.
Lastly, Facebook recently launched a new e-commerce feature, Shops. This function—which will be offered on both Facebook and Instagram—will allow businesses to essentially create an online storefront to list their products, as well as catalogs that will allow users to purchase the featured items either directly on social media or indirectly.
Just the tip of the iceberg
The ascendence of e-commerce is not likely to be short-lived. Though disruption is often unsettling and intimidating, firms now have an opportunity to reimagine the way future business can be conducted. In fact, as businesses continue to innovate, e-commerce will soon become the new normal. COVID-19 has only prompted businesses to brush the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital potential.
Moving forward, traditional sellers looking to make a transition during these unprecedented times should bear in mind that there are many resources available for support. Facebook, Amazon, and Google are all offering free marketing courses—keeping up-to-date with best practices will assist businesses with maintaining a competitive digital strategy after successfully completing the e-commerce shift.
The bottom line is that now, in the midst of a global pandemic, businesses should seize the opportunity the virus has provided. Traditional firms, who are now incentivized to change their entire operating structures in the span of a few months, should take the leap forward into an era of digital growth and innovation. E-commerce has proven to be an integral part of the future of business, and it is here to stay.