The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the retail industry in a very short space of time. With physical stores having to close as the public are in lockdown or avoiding public places, businesses are having to adapt and show agility in an ever-changing landscape.
Behaviours amongst consumers are changing when it comes to how they buy. A report from BigCommerce shows the online retail sales are up by over 25% since the start of the pandemic, with some industries at almost 400%. The image below from CommonThread shows where the rise in e-commerce has been driven from.
There is a product mix of pandemic essentials and categories that show that consumers are looking for alternative means of entertainment when the great outdoors is inaccessible. People are using devices more than ever before, with an accelerated increase at the start of 2020. That means there is a huge opportunity for businesses to reach their customers via digital channels.
Covid-19 has shown us that businesses who can offer an omni-channel experience have shifted to a new normal with relative ease. However, those who have spent years focusing on physical stores and close contact communications have struggled to transform how they operate. It is unknown how many of the behaviours we’ve witnessed during Covid-19 will continue post lockdown but there is a strong chance at least some of them might stick. Research suggests that it can take as little as two months for behaviours to turn into a habit.
In this article, we will look at the importance of having a website to match the demand of today and changing consumer attitudes.
What do we mean by “online presence”?
The term “online presence” is a little ambiguous. Once upon a time, it meant just getting a website created and crossing your fingers until it appeared on Google. That has changed dramatically in the last decade. As the digital ecosystem has grown exponentially, we’ve seen a mass of social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), blogging sites (WordPress, Blogger), video streaming networks (YouTube, TikTok), business listings (Google My Business) and mobile apps and Internet of Things (Iot) devices like Alexa and Google Home.
Being part of all of these is having an online presence. In a competitive world with billions of websites, businesses need to be where their customers are to be seen.
However, the starting point to all of this is your brand website.
Why do businesses need a website?
Social media is great for businesses to communicate with their customers. As early as 18th March 2020, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had witnessed twice their normal level of volume via WhatsApp and Messenger than before the pandemic. Social media use increased across every age demographic creating larger target audiences for businesses.
However, being active on social media is not the same as having a website. You might own a brick & mortar store with amazing displays in the window that draw in loads of customers from the street. That’s great, but not much use when the store is closed. A website helps turn the physical storefront into a digital storefront. You want to show customers that even if they can’t visit you literally, there is a perfectly good virtual world where they can still experience the same level of service.
Let people find you
Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day. The results people get when searching for products are services are based on algorithms that check attributes like the relevance of the content, how well the site displays on mobile and if other people are posting links to that site. Google have stated that their algorithm does not include social media pages as factors to search ranking. In short, without a business website, there is a chance you won’t ever appear on Google, missing out on your industry chunk of daily searches.
Of course, a lot of this depends on search engine optimisation (SEO) but that’s a topic for another day!
A business website adds credibility to your brand. According to Blue Corona, 30% of consumers won’t even consider buying from a business that doesn’t have a website and 75% judge a company based on their website design. There are two factors to consider here. First, getting your digital storefront up and running generates an additional trust element and second, doing it well ensures you are more likely to gain customers.
Social media pages can definitely help your business grow and reach target audiences but probably every other business in your industry is doing the same thing. A website is unique to you and your brand.
A website also gives you a domain name which in itself portrays the brand in a better light. I don’t think as many people would shop at Amazon if the website address were www.facebook.com/amazonshopping or similar.
New ways to market your products
Having a website creates new ways to market your products and services. For example, you can integrate interactive videos, apps, images and text at low cost to great effect. Imagine you own a hairdressing business during Covid-19. There is no way to open your salon as it specifically calls for close contact. However, you could set up a website providing video tutorials or live streams that show your customers how to style or even cut hair themselves.
A digital storefront opens up new channels for traditional brick & mortar businesses that enable them to continue trading at a time where business is not as usual.
Covid-19 looks set to change the way consumers search for and buy products and services. For businesses with physical stores, whilst having a website has always been important, it is now imperative if they want to adapt to the changing market. Whilst there is a lot of education to be done in some cases, those who don’t act now risk falling quickly behind the competition.