By: Sarah Cornelisse*
The year 2020 and accompanying COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated the importance and value of e-commerce capabilities and the digital marketing tools that drive online sales, particularly for food and small businesses. As consumers increasingly turn to and rely upon online shopping, it’s critical for businesses to build trusting relationships with customers and ensure those consumers’ concerns regarding online purchasing are addressed.
During the last quarter of 1999, e-commerce retail sales were estimated at 0.6% of total retail sales (U.S. Dept. of Commerce). Preliminary data for Q2 2020 estimates e-commerce sales at 16.1% of total retail sales, a 31.8% increase from the prior quarter and a 44.5% increase from the same quarter a year ago (U.S. Dept. of Commerce).
For businesses marketing and selling directly to individual consumers, it’s important to understand why they turn to online shopping. According to a consumer survey conducted by Deloitte, the top five reasons for shopping online are:
1) to avoid crowds (65%)
2) comfort of at-home shopping (64%)
3) free shipping/delivery options (60%)
4) 24-hour availability (58%)
5) ease of price comparison (53%)
While, overall, online shopping is steadily growing in acceptance and use by consumers, concerns continue to exist that deter more widespread use. Concerns regarding security, inability to see, touch, or taste products, lack of personal interaction with the business, and poor past online shopping experiences have been identified as deterrents to online shopping (Katawetawaraks and Wang, 2011).
There are several steps that businesses can take to counter these concerns and enhance their online presence and encourage online purchasing.
Cultivate a digital mindset
Success with digital marketing and online sales requires that you adopt and cultivate a digital mindset. In the rapidly evolving online environment, businesses should be willing to try new technologies, content formats, and approaches.
“Provide tools to anyone in the industry that is, or will be, involved with online marketing, sales, or customer service activities.”
One method for creating this mindset is through the solicitation of feedback regarding the online experience. Website and online store appeal can entice or deter consumers from purchasing. White (1996) found that consumers who rated a business’s website appeal highly were more likely to purchase from them.
Asking trusted customers, family, or friends to review your website, online store, or social media is a useful way to assess your digital presence and approach them from the customers’ perspective.
Review your digital marketing tools
Whether your business has a website, online store, social media presence, or a combination of these, review each separately for user-friendliness and completeness. Make sure that basic information about your businesses is provided.
“Consumers are less likely to purchase from a business online if information about the company or products is lacking or insufficient (White, 1996).”
Throughout a review, identify what can be done to overcome consumer concerns regarding the inability to see, touch, or taste products and lack of personal interaction.
Embedding short videos that demonstrate product use or preparation, providing highly detailed product descriptions, and including multiple product photos are actions that can be taken to improve the consumer sense and feel for products.
Videos, photo stories, and regular social media posts about business owners and employees can help to create the sense of a personal connection between consumer and business.
Verify privacy and security
With consumer concerns with security being a key deterrent to online shopping, take the time to review your website and online store’s privacy and security features. Consumers expect that when purchasing from online stores, their personal information – email, credit card number, address, etc. – will be well protected from hackers.
Surveys have shown that when data is compromised, they blame businesses, not the supporting service providers such as payment processors.
This is particularly important for any business collecting information from European Union residents following GDPR implementation in 2018. Specific items to review include the server(s) hosting your website and online store, your online payment processor, and database backups.
Ensure quality of online customer service
High-quality, responsive online customer care is essential year-round and is an integral component of marketing and business success. Research shows that “80% of customers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services” (Salesforce, 2018). The impact of your customer e-service can be substantial.
“In another study, 21% of customers were more likely to buy from businesses they can reach on social media (Sprout Social, 2018). Other research has found that people indicate that they would be less likely to do business with someone who didn’t answer questions on their social media pages.”
Aspects vital to customer care include timely responsiveness and an understanding of what is motivating a consumer to reach out. Take the time to review customer service processes, developing customer service response plans, or making enhancements as necessary.
Ensure mobile compatibility
Mobile phone usage by consumers continues to grow. Whether you use a website builder (e.g. Wix, Weebly, Squarespace) or have a custom-built site utilizing a different platform, businesses must ensure their websites, e-newsletters, and online stores are accessible, readable, and mobile userfriendly.
Take the time to read your email newsletters and browse your website and online store using different devices of different sizes.
Utilize social commerce
Social media platforms are continually evolving with their features to keep users on the sites and engaged.
In recent years, e-commerce features have increasingly been integrated. Currently, Facebook (Facebook Shop), Instagram (Checkout), and Pinterest (buy now pins) are leading the way in developing social commerce functionality within their platforms.
“Social commerce already has a firm foothold with consumers. The percentage of internet users who had bought directly through social media channels increased from 13% in the last quarter of 2018 to 21% in the third quarter of 2019.”
Not only are U.S. internet users between the ages of 18-34 the most interested in social commerce, but they have purchased via social commerce the most, with 37% of this age group having used social commerce and 11% using it regularly (Statista, 2020).
Analyze your data
Nearly all digital platforms offer analytics that can be used to assess your goals and gain insight on your online community and customers.
Whether Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Google Analytics, you can gain valuable insight regarding the number of unique visitors, day and time visitors are online, the type of device used, length of visit, pages visited, site navigation, and bounce rate, among other data.
Carve out time to regularly analyze the data you collect and/or receive regarding website use and performance and use it to drive decisions for the website, online store, and social media activities or modifications.
As consumers increasingly turn to and rely upon online shopping, it’s critical for businesses to build trusting relationships with customers and ensure that consumers’ concerns regarding online purchasing are addressed.
Start by cultivating a digital mindset and a focus on the customer experience by providing substantial, informative product information through online privacy, security measures, and quality customer service.
*Sarah Cornelisse is a Senior Extension Associate of agricultural entrepreneurship and business management at Penn State University in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education.
Sarah has expertise in direct marketing, value-added dairy entrepreneurship and marketing, the use of digital and social media for agricultural farm and food business marketing, and business and marketing planning and decision making.
Originally from New York State, she has a B.A in mathematics from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and M.S. degrees in Agricultural Economics and Animal Science, both from Penn State University.
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Editor’s note: references cited by the author within the text are available under previous request to our editorial team.