Online Businesses & COVID-19: How To Be More Resilient In 'The New Normal'
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The current COVID-19 pandemic has been a public health catastrophe. It has also put millions of people out of work. So, as countries slowly re-emerge from their lockdowns, businesses—especially small and medium enterprises (SME)—are confronted by a very challenging retail environment where consumers not only have far less money to spend but will also restrict their movements and minimize their interactions with other people.
In this ‘new normal’, people are increasingly turning to the Internet to purchase goods and services. This is why many SMEs have used the COVID-19 lockdown to start selling online. But as any experienced digital marketer will tell you, succeeding in e-commerce is very, very demanding. And with the possibility of more infections and lockdowns on the horizon, both new and current SMEs in the online retail space need to make their businesses as resilient as possible very quickly. To help you, here are three proven strategies that make SMEs more robust online.
When a SME has good margins, it needs to sell less to break even and it improves cash flow, which is critical in these uncertain times.
One way to do this is to use technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and data science to improve performance in a variety of areas, including marketing, customer support and inventory management. Using an SME’s data, these technologies can unearth a multitude of insights such as which shoppers will most likely buy high value items or which products will sell in the next seven days. Knowing this can reduce advertising costs and minimize operational inefficiencies for bigger margins.
Accessing these technologies is becoming much easier thanks to SaaS applications such as Alavi.ai. It is designed specifically for SMEs so it’s easy to setup and use. With its AI-powered predictive analytics, Alavi can identify shoppers and products that deliver the best returns, so both revenues and margins are consistently maximized.
Expand in to as many regions as possible
More often than not, online SMEs rely on customers and employees from just one region. Today, this is very risky because a crisis in that region (like another lockdown) could bring a company’s sales and operations to a complete halt. It is therefore critical, that a SME diversifies the locations it functions in to minimize disruptions and maintain revenue.
For SMEs, new tech has made it easy for them to expand their local footprint and even go global. For example, to handle customers and fulfill orders, add-ons for e-commerce platform Shopify can translate a retail website into multiple languages and help ship products around the world.
There are also good options for assisting staff in different locations to collaborate remotely. These include MS Office 365 and Google Apps, which allow SMEs to control access to sensitive data while facilitating teamwork on critical projects. There are also employee productivity applications such as MURAL and Wurkr that create an online workspace for colleagues to communicate and cooperate.
Market through multiple channels
Whether it is pay-per-click advertising, email marketing or display advertising, too many online SMEs rely on just one digital marketing channel. In normal times, this strategy may deliver decent (but not optimal) results. But during the current pandemic, when more and more people are looking to buy online, marketing on multiple channels gives SMEs a much bigger net to catch new customers with, as well as bring back old ones. It also protects SMEs, in case a single channel loses its effectiveness.
Multichannel marketing is not easy for online SMEs due to their limited resources. Fortunately, there is tech that can help ensure it is done efficiently, effectively and profitably. Alavi.ai, which was highlighted earlier, also manages campaigns across multiple channels, including Facebook, Google, email and SMS. Designed to be used by digital marketers of all levels, the application automates launching campaigns across multiple channels and uses AI to suggest improvements to existing campaigns. This allows SMEs to enjoy all the benefits of multichannel marketing without investing in a bigger team.
For smaller businesses, competing online has always been a huge challenge. But in this COVID-19 ‘new normal’, people have less money and are more selective about what they buy, it has become an all-out battle for survival. This is why SMEs need to build resilience now. So, whether that’s by increasing margins or expanding in to different regions or marketing through multiple channels, with the right approach and the right technology, it can be done.