Digital agencies will continue playing an instrumental role in helping small and medium businesses (SMBs) develop their ecommerce strategy in a post-pandemic world, according to Vendasta Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Tomlin.
Tomlin says while the pandemic induced unprecedented ecommerce adoption overall among SMBs, in reality, two major cohorts of businesses are emerging from the pandemic.
They include digital leaders: SMBs who quickly pivoted and entrusted a local expert to help them develop an ecommerce strategy and ecommerce marketing plan to sell online during lockdowns. And then there are digital laggards: businesses that are still reluctant to move to or expand online.
In partnering with SMBs, agencies will first need to determine which of the above categories a business falls under. However, the underlying challenge for both remains the same: providing SMBs with an “ecommerce ecosystem” or a set of solutions that make it simple for their customers to shop online.
In this interview, Tomlin discusses:
- The challenges SMBs face in a post-pandemic world
- Why ecommerce is here to stay, and what agencies can do to support ecommerce adoption among local businesses
- What is an ecommerce ecosystem and the importance of it
- Top tips for agencies helping SMB digital leaders and digital laggards with their ecommerce strategy
Watch the recorded video and read the extended Q&A below.
What role do you see for agencies in developing an ecommerce strategy for SMBs?
The pandemic has changed the way business is done. We’ve all seen this seismic shift towards online buying and browsing, and that’s expected to keep growing in a post-pandemic world.
In that regard, agencies will play a crucial role for SMBs by helping them develop an ecommerce strategy so they can market themselves and sell online - because that’s where more customer foot traffic is going.
We’re seeing increased evidence that more SMBs recognize having a digital presence and an ecommerce marketing plan are vital. The Vendasta State of Local Businesses 2021 survey found the pandemic drove many SMBs to find a trusted local expert to help them take that leap of faith into the digital world.
And now we have a situation where 35 percent of local businesses are relying on agencies for help with their ecommerce strategy. Most local businesses are also telling us they would use local experts to manage their social media, online reputation, and digital advertising (see image below).
Local businesses understand these things are important, but they often lack the expertise to manage these channels themselves. That’s a huge opportunity for agencies.
What’s the most important consideration for developing an ecommerce strategy for SMBs?
We think the most important piece of the digital puzzle is providing SMBs an ‘ecommerce ecosystem’ or a set of solutions that make it simple for consumers to shop online.
A typical SMB uses over 30 different software solutions to run various aspects of their business; everything from accounting to emails and productivity.
We did a churn study several years ago and we found there was a 160 percent increase in customer retention when an agency sold four solutions as opposed to one. But these days you need to be more to your customers.
You need to be an expert in providing the right tools at the right time, ensuring those solutions talk to one another, and bundle everything.
For example, are you providing your clients with one login or do they require a whole bunch of different logins for different solutions? Where do SMBs manage their users? What about the reporting? Where do they manage customer communications? That’s a challenge as well as an opportunity for agencies.
What challenges are SMBs facing as economies emerge from the pandemic?
If we think about what happened when the pandemic hit, ecommerce adoption moved faster in three months than it did anytime in the past 10 years. But that doesn’t mean every single SMB jumped on the ecommerce trend.
So even though ecommerce exploded on aggregate, what we’re seeing as we emerge from the pandemic are two cohorts of SMBs. You have ‘digital leaders’ who quickly integrated digital tools needed to run their company and sell online. And you have ‘digital laggards’ or business owners who are still hesitant about ecommerce.
The challenges for these two cohorts are different. For SMBs playing catch-up, they’re looking for a ‘turnkey’ or ready-to-use solution to help them make that leap of faith into the digital era, and they need the help of a trusted local expert to facilitate that. But the solution has to be simple.
For SMBs who have already taken the leap, the challenge now is making it work altogether plus improving and refining it so their ecommerce delivers a better customer experience and more revenue.
Will ecommerce adoption remain important in a post-pandemic world when consumers can go back to visiting their favourite brick-and-mortar stores again?
Absolutely! The ecommerce revolution isn’t new, but it has accelerated because of the pandemic. In fact, a Salesforce survey suggests 61 percent of consumers say they will do more online shopping in a post-pandemic world than before.
That’s from a consumer perspective. So having an ecommerce marketing program will be critical in driving and converting customers visiting your online shop front.
For businesses using digital tools, a Deloitte survey in 2019 found they were twice as profitable and three times more likely to see revenues grow. That’s because we know digital tools can help SMBs target new markets, sell in different geographies, and communicate with potential buyers across different channels.
Vendasta CEO Brendan King pointed out at our annual Conquer Local Connect event earlier this year, those businesses who delay or ignore ecommerce are going to have a very difficult future.
You mentioned there are two cohorts of SMBs: the digital leaders and laggards. What approach should agencies take to support businesses in these different buckets?
In the context of digital leaders, the challenge for agencies is to help them unify the solutions SMBs currently have. So, as I said, it’s not just critical to merely have the right solutions, but increasingly you need to have a set of solutions that talk to each other.
If an agency can help SMBs take their ecommerce strategy to that next level - by having an ecommerce ecosystem which contains integrated solutions - that will be of huge value to those businesses from an operational, customer experience and revenue perspective.
To help the laggards, it’s really important that agencies help business owners understand the urgency to make the move and why they need an ecommerce strategy and an online presence. The global pandemic accelerated a shift to digital and presented both a challenge and a great opportunity for SMBs to engage clients in new ways.
We put together a post-pandemic playbook which is a collection of our thoughts and strategies on how to approach the challenges and opportunities in front of agencies. It includes our Top 10 tips for guiding SMBs that are just starting their ecommerce journey.
You mentioned the ecommerce ecosystem. Can you go deeper into what that means for agencies?
When we think about an ecommerce ecosystem, it includes the digital tools, services, and processes involved in allowing customers to find and buy a business’s products online and have it delivered to their doorstep.
If you consider the full cycle of an online shopping experience, there are many steps involved. The prospective buyer needs internet access and they need to be able to find a product they want in your online store. The retailer needs to have a system to receive orders, facilitate payment, and source products from their inventory or elsewhere. Then, it needs to be packed and shipped to the customer.
The Global Innovation Forum breaks down the ecommerce ecosystem into six key components: platforms, marketing, payments, communications, productivity and shipping and logistics.
Increasingly, that cycle doesn’t just stop with purchase and delivery. Nowadays customers will be posting reviews about the product, the service they received, and how seamless the checkout process was. And it’s going to be incumbent upon a local business to respond to those reviews in order to manage their online reputation.
Arguably, having an ecommerce strategy is paramount for SMBs’ survival in a post-pandemic world. Below are three important takeaways from this interview:
- Agencies should seek to provide SMBs with the right solutions as part of an ecommerce ecosystem that makes it easy for consumers to shop online
- For SMBs that already have an ecommerce strategy, an agency’s role is to help them lower operational costs, improve customer experiences, and boost revenue by refining and improving that strategy as well as developing an ecommerce marketing plan
- Agencies should look to help digital laggards understand the value, importance, and benefits of an ecommerce strategy and recognize the urgency to make the move as acceleration of online shopping as a result of the pandemic continues
Want to know more about how to assist SMBs with their digital transformation in a post-pandemic world? Download our free post-pandemic playbook on ecommerce today.