This article originally appeared in the 2018 September/October issue of PARCEL.
We all buy stuff. We buy it online, we buy it in stores. We buy it on marketplaces, we buy it from big and little retail stores, and we can now even buy it on Instagram. We use our laptops and our mobile phones to complete these transactions, buying from US-based small business owners as well as from sellers all over the world, in Australia, Canada, France, and beyond. We buy from all around the globe at all times of the day and night from any device we have in hand – and when we make a purchase online, we expect it to be on our doorsteps within two days.
This is the world small businesses selling online and offline live in today. Consumers expect to be able to use any device, around the globe, with instant gratification via fast delivery. Let’s look at some technology trends in these areas that can give small businesses superpowers to compete with the big guys — and win.
A typical shopper today is online-savvy and buying products from a number of different sales channels – 86% of shoppers today are using at least two sales channels when shopping. In order to capture these shoppers’ business within these two sales channels, a typical retailer today sells across four to five channels on average. For a small business owner, this means having to maintain multiple product catalogs and keep them current, drive traffic to multiple stores, and ship orders to customers domestically and internationally from multiple inventory sources – both their owned inventory and their virtual inventory housed by a manufacturer or dropshipper.
More and more small businesses are selling where their customers are online. Given that most customers spend an average of 45 minutes on social media (according to the Nielsen report) — especially on their smartphones — reaching potential customers via Instagram and Facebook is becoming an important shopping arena that needs to be seriously considered. Selling directly from within a social media platform is different than a typical online store. Social networks are used to connect and trade stories, and there is no better way for people to share their stories than through posts sharing images and videos. With tools made available to small businesses, social media platforms like Instagram are now easily accessible for business owners to tag products to sell directly within the post.
Marketplaces have their own parameters for how to sell successfully. For small businesses, ensuring top rankings in these channels is dependent on customer ratings, which takes into account the quality and uniqueness of their products. Offering fast and free shipping and then meeting expected and stated delivery times helps merchants place highly in the marketplace rankings.
Any Device, at Any Time
A majority (76%) of all online purchases on Shopify were completed on a mobile device just in the second quarter of this year; that’s a lot of people shopping on their mobile phones. For a thriving online business to reach their customers, it is important to consider launching a store that functions and looks good on any device – whether on a mobile device or tablet.
This can be tricky for a small business, especially when it comes to product presentation, mobile payments, and checkout. Accelerated checkout options like Apple Pay or Google Pay are increasingly popular to complete those checkouts as well, thanks to the ease-of-use on mobile devices. After all, mobile phones are often the beginning, end, and entirety of the shopping experience.
With the right software platform that is optimized for a variety of devices, a small business owner can deliver the perfect customer experience no matter what device their shoppers are using. Mobile-optimized sites used to be a nice-to-have option, but now they’re the default.
The World Is a Lot Smaller than We Think
Shopping happens all over the world now; we are no longer confined by geographical limitations. Nearly half of online shoppers in Canada say they’ve made a purchase from an overseas business in the last six months. What this means is that consumers are not buying only from their home country; rather, they are looking at products from around the world. Similarly, for small business retailers, tapping into the world of shoppers can be a great way to grow their topline. However, this is no easy feat. Things like retail tax, currencies, payment methods, shipping methods, cultural nuances, and language need to be taken into consideration when taking a business global. As daunting as this might sound, technology has made the world a lot smaller. With the right technology solution, a lot of this work can be easily solved.
Increasingly, customers expect to see duties and taxes represented in their total cost up front. That requires a level of sophistication and expertise that even many large multinationals haven’t yet mastered. With the right platform and the right tools, however, even SMBs and individual entrepreneurs can provide this kind of visibility and pre-payment at checkout for their international customers.
Orders Delivered Fast
More than 80% of consumers today want a same-day shipping option, and only 56% of retailers offer one, according to CB Insights. Thanks to the gold standard set by Amazon, consumers today want stuff today, tomorrow, or, at the absolute most, two days. Not only do they want fast shipping, but most consumers also expect to pay next to nothing to have their products in their hands as soon as they hit the checkout button. A lot of retailers believe that without Amazon’s size and backing, offering fast and free shipping can be extremely costly — this is not true. With the right technology partners enabling the right distribution of products to be close to customers, a smart network of warehouses, and the right transportation partners, fast and free can be achieved.
Some retailers can do this by engaging in third-party logistics (3PL) providers that will handle demand forecasting, warehousing, inventory balancing, transportation, and shipping. Experienced technology providers will also be able to help identify the right stock keeping units (SKUs) and ensure that those are distributed across fulfillment networks to meet your customers’ fast and free expectations. Another way to achieve speed is to engage with platform technologies that provide pre-negotiated rates with major carriers like USPS, DHL, UPS, and Canada Post so that a small business owner can ship all over the world and use a combination of carriers to get the job done.
More tools than ever are now available to small businesses to allow smaller retailers to thrive in the land of Amazon and other large enterprise players. Multi-channel selling platforms provide options for small businesses to choose the right tools that work best for their business, letting them sell on mobile devices, find their ideal customers everywhere around the globe, and select the right shipping partner to satisfy the delivery expectations of those customers. From first contact to fulfillment, SMBs today are better equipped than ever to provide the ideal experience to build loyal, satisfied customers.
Maia Benson is the Global Commercial Head of Shipping & Fulfillment at Shopify. In her role, she leads the commercial team focused on simplifying shipping and fulfillment for Shopify.