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How Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Move Online in a Hurry Shifting to digital has become instantly mandatory to adapt and survive.

By Tom Popomaronis

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

milindri | Getty Images

Retail had been forced to make some major changes. As all non-essential businesses were urged to shut down, foot traffic into brick-and-mortar retail stores all but vanished. Even with staggered reopenings, the importance of having ecommerce functionality is clearer than ever.

Making the shift online can feel like a significant feat, especially with limited resources. Handling online orders —especially transnational, figuring out the supply chain mechanisms, digital marketing and handling customer concerns and questions — is a significant adjustment and learning curve. But if anything, the pandemic proved the need for businesses of all types to be flexible and ready for anything, and specifically, to take the digital leap. Ecommerce will be front and center for the new normal. Follow these steps now so you can recoup lost sales and adjust to the changing times.

1. Start easy with a user-friendly website

First things first: Just get a website up and running as quickly as you can. Now is not the time to hire a developer to begin a slow build of a perfect and complex ecommerce platform. Instead, opt for simple. Websites like Shopify are user-friendly and straightforward and will take just a few hours for you to set up on your own (or the most tech-savvy member of your team can try). Take photos of all of your physical products to the best of your abilities, making sure the background is as simple and non-distracting as possible. Remember that these photos are just placeholders; you'll hire a photographer (if you need to!) down the road.

Another option is to add your products to Amazon, which already has existing infrastructure. But since recent statistics report that 40 percent of customers prefer to shop online to save themselves time, now is as good a time as ever to get your online store up and running. Amazon can be used as an addendum to your online store, too. Regardless of which route you go, make sure to invest time on perfecting your sales copy, so that customers who have never heard of you or your business before can understand the advantages of your product.

Related: How to Build a Beautiful, User-Friendly Website on a Budget

2. Take advantage of existing delivery infrastructure

One understandable concern is shipping and delivery. It can be a significant undertaking to package and send every order while also adhering to social distancing guidelines. Major retailers such as Walmart have hired delivery workers (in fact, Walmart hired 50,000), and Amazon began a hiring spree with a target goal of 75,000 delivery workers to keep up with demand and adjust to the shift to online.

Additionally, shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx are still in operation. You can schedule pickups from your store or warehouse, so create one or two pickup times per week. Shipping schedules are delayed nationwide right now, so make sure to keep your online customers informed of the expected wait times, and deliver them their shipping number as soon as possible. Fortunately, since everything is moving slower right now, you'll have more time on your learning curve to figure out shipping orders for your first time.

3. Use remote teams in different time zones to help customers

To eliminate customer wait times for questions and phone calls and keep business running around the clock, Todd Lamb, the founder of health supplements company PureLife Organics, recommends to "use remote teams located in different time zones to process orders." PureLife has also had to quickly shift to online, and Lamb says taking advantage of all logistics operations that are already in place (such as shipping and fulfillment centers like UPS) is key to adapting quickly. Specifically, hiring people across time zones who can respond to customer questions and concerns can heighten customer satisfaction. Forty percent of customers report that faster response times would most improve their customer service experience.

If you're able, also encourage team members across the nation to take charge of the shipping in their area. They'll need to have their own stock of products, but this can decrease shipping times and costs. For example: If you are based in Sacramento but an order is placed in Pittsburgh, a team member living in New Jersey could handle the shipping process, so the customer receives their package faster and the shipping cost to your company is less substantial.

Related: 5 Essentials to Building a Successful Remote Team

This quick shift demands brick-and-mortar shops be highly adaptive. Pivoting is a central part of entrepreneurship, and the quicker companies and shops of all sizes can make the move online, the better for their bottom line. Let your past customers know they can now order from you by putting a sign on your physical locations, sending out emails and taking to social media. Once everything is ready to go, you can invest time in learning digital marketing to expand your reach. But, first things first: Completing the shift and build the infrastructure to support your new online store or digital presence.

Tom Popomaronis

Executive Vice President of Innovation at Massive Alliance

Tom Popomaronis is executive vice president of innovation at Massive Alliance, a global agency that provides executive-reputation management and leadership-branding services.

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