Becoming a digital retailer – quickly – in the face of COVID-19

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Becoming a digital retailer – quickly – in the face of COVID-19

By Dan Berthiaume - 03/20/2020

There may soon be two types of retailers – the digital and the out-of-business.

I don’t need to explain COVID-19 and how it has completely changed the way consumers live and shop in the matter of a week. Many brick-and-mortar retailers are voluntarily shuttering stores, limiting hours and customer traffic, and/or adopting “to go”-only operational models during the pandemic. Increasingly, municipalities and states are passing restrictions on how consumers can congregate. Meanwhile, experts say it will be weeks or even months before the pandemic begins subsiding.

Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going away, and can still serve a valuable purpose during this crisis. But any retailer that does not offer omnichannel shopping options is going to run into serious issues with revenue flow. 

Not every brick-and-mortar chain has a well-established digital presence. Many smaller retailers (and even some larger ones) do not currently engage in e-commerce. Here are a few suggestions for quickly establishing omnichannel commerce operations. Even retailers with a more robust digital presence may want to consider these options as back-up or complementary infrastructure.

Third-party delivery services
Fortunately for retailers who may not be set up for delivering online orders, there is a wide variety of third-party providers who will handle part or all of the process. In some instances, you can directly integrate your ordering workflows into a delivery partner’s app or website and only have to provide the product. Depending on the delivery provider, drivers or personal shoppers might even handle fulfillment.

In addition to numerous dedicated delivery platforms, many rideshare platforms also offer online delivery. While foodservice and grocery retailers have the most third-party options available, retailers in other verticals can also find plenty of partners willing to work with them on short notice.

E-commerce platforms/marketplaces
Retailers that find themselves scrambling to set up e-commerce sites have a number of options that allow quick creation and scaling of full-fledged online stores. These include platforms such as BigCommerce and Shopify, which offer cloud-based, e-commerce-as-a-service packages that can get you up and running as an online retailer within a week.

In addition, retailers including Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and Google provide third-party online marketplaces that make it easy to set up shop as an e-commerce merchant. One caveat is that given current extreme consumer demand for certain items, Amazon has already limited the products it will ship from its warehouses, and other marketplaces may follow.

Turn your stores into digital commerce hubs
Brick-and-mortar retailers who plan on keeping their stores open (as allowed by law) can obtain some of the benefits of online commerce without directly participating. Package delivery services such as FedEx, and pickup/return platforms such as Narvar, will partner with retailers to use their stores as physical distribution points for third-party online orders. 

In addition, Amazon offers several different partnership programs that let brick-and-mortar stores serve as pickup and/or return hubs for purchases. Beyond any possible fees stores may collect for serving as e-commerce hubs, these programs also generate increased traffic that can potentially be converted into additional sales.

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