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How E-Commerce Is Being Forced to Evolve In a Post-Covid World

Learning how to pivot business during and post-pandemic is something all entrepreneurs need to know.

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The entirety of the Covid-19 pandemic has served as a case study in the cascading effects of social change. Things barely imaginable just over a year ago are now a part of daily life. In the context of enterprise, these changes manifest as both shifts in consumer behavior and new challenges for businesses — none of which have been unaffected.

Against this background, the role of e-commerce has grown immensely. It's not just niche items being ordered online anymore; in 2020, over 50% of all consumers used direct-to-consumer sales channels to buy everyday items like groceries, cleaning products and other consumer-packaged goods. In fact, online grocery sales more than doubled, growing 54% last year and nearly reaching the $100 million mark.

Brick-and-mortar was suffering even before the pandemic hit, but now appears to be actually on the decline, with fewer new storefronts opening in 2020 than in any of the three years prior. Even more surprisingly, a full 60% of interactions between consumers and businesses now take place online.

Related: Winning The E-Commerce Battle In The Post COVID-19 Era

For some online sellers, these numbers have added up to a windfall. Others have had to reevaluate their businesses, faced with new realities in consumer values and behavior. And regardless of whether a particular seller's income stream deepened or dried up, e-commerce entrepreneurs have been forced to evolve their mindset.

Evolving supply lines, up and down

Stay-at-home orders and non-essential business closures directly impacted a great number of companies. A much bigger problem that resulted from the spread of Covid-19, though, was the major disruption of supply chains. Whether due to government intervention, sick employees, or changes to operations (such as incorporating social distancing or staggered shifts to ensure staff safety), thousands of suppliers around the world suddenly either slowed production or shut down entirely.

Any business owner without a contingency plan involving multiple or alternate suppliers was left completely exposed and many paid the price in the form of product unavailability. Whether sellers experienced revenue loss or not, it's now clear that in going forward, supply chain optimization must be a priority. That means understanding the many risks that exist within and around a company's supply base. Furthermore, it's critical to partner with a company using a proven online business model. Instead of pouring time and money into just any new or flashy platform, seek out those with years of proven success. Mitigate your risk by selecting your platform carefully, with consideration for their proven strengths.

Related: The Pandemic Economy Has Made Ecommerce More Indispensable Than Ever

Downstream supply matters, too — getting the products and services needed to run a business is obviously crucial, but so is delivering the final, value-added item to the consumer. That paradigm has changed, too, and companies have been forced to innovate or adopt dynamic solutions to problems like getting items to customers who aren't allowed (or don't want to) interact closely with other members of the public.

Largely, e-commerce was already ahead of the game in this regard, but still faced plenty of challenges. Where products are stocked, who handles items after they're delivered, how those products are handled — all are questions that must be asked anew in light of health and safety concerns. In addition, many entrepreneurs have had to find out on the fly whether their technological infrastructure and know-how was up to the task of handling a huge increase in online shopping.

Necessity, the mother of all invention

The People's Choice Word of the Year for 2020 was "unprecedented." Happily, that year is now in the rearview mirror, but the times that lie ahead for e-commerce will undoubtedly contain many more unprecedented landmarks and achievements. With three out of four consumers and sellers alike reporting a preference for digital options, it appears that the pandemic galvanized the age of online business.

Change can be challenging and uncomfortable, but in the context of business, is often synonymous with opportunity. With the right products and the right mindset, there's never been a better time to be — or become — a digital entrepreneur.

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