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Conquer Local Roundtable: 5 ways to smooth the transition to ecommerce

In this new series, we sit down with Vendasta’s executive team and interview them on current issues facing agencies and enterprises.

Our panel includes: CEO and co-founder Brendan King, CMO and co-founder Jeff Tomlin, CTO Dale Hopkins, CSO Jacqueline Cook, EVP of Marketplace Ed O’Keefe, EVP of Product Gib Olander, EVP Jeff Folckemer, VP of Product Design Bryan Larson, VP of People Operations Jean Parchewsky, and VP of Demand Generation Devon Hennig, who moderated the discussion.

While it’s been consistently gathering steam for over a decade, these last few months have massively accelerated the global transition to ecommerce.

Inspired by this growth, we sat down with Vendasta’s C-suite to chat about their first experiences with ecommerce, the struggles and success stories they’ve witnessed in these last few months, and any tips they’d give for moving forward into a more ecommerce-based future. In this post, we talk about the businesses that seem to move towards ecommerce with the smoothest and quickest success, as well as those that take a bit more time and effort to really get moving. Watch the entire video or read about keeping your personal touch even while transitioning to ecommerce.

What are the characteristics of small businesses that transition really well to ecommerce, and which ones seem to struggle the most?

1. It’s not about the vertical. It’s about the will to make it work.

Ed O’Keefe: The fastest shifters were not category-based, they were desperation-based. SMBs are scrappy. They are human beings that need to pay a mortgage, pay rent, take their kids to soccer camp, and all that kind of stuff. So the desperate ones shifted the fastest, and they grabbed any tools they could.

Additionally, the biggest influencer between SMBs to go eCommerce is other SMBs. They watch their neighbor or their friend or their co-op or whatever, do something and they go and copy it. And copy it, and copy it. And they usually help each other out, even if they're in the same category locally in a market.

But you've also seen those other ones that have sat at their kitchen table still in shock. They’re obviously going to have a rougher time pulling through this.

2. Managing inventory can be a struggle. But it doesn’t have to be.

Jeff Tomlin: There are a lot of business categories in which the interaction is fairly straightforward. You can book an appointment online. They've got transactions down pat. It's pretty easy to order a pizza online. They've got the delivery systems pretty well figured out. But the businesses that are sort of struggling, for the most part, are the ones that have large amounts of inventory. Because it's challenging to get that inventory online.

But I would say this: the technology is there now where they can do it. Obviously, [Vendasta is] bringing one of those solutions to the market right now. Still, this is an important point. A lot of the businesses that have large inventories have sat back and said, “This is going to be just too difficult to do,” and thrown their arms up in the air. But when you dig into it now, there are pretty intuitive systems available.

Brendan King: This is Gib's line, but I like it a lot. He says, “It's easy to find somebody that is selling Nike, but it's hard to find out if this Nike size 9.5 in my chosen style is within a block or a mile". I would buy a lot more stuff locally if I knew it was there, but the minute that I go and try to buy something and it's not in inventory, I'm never going to go there again.

So we have to find a way to make it so that businesses connect their inventory system. Because almost everybody today already has a good inventory system. The key is to get that thing connected, and to get it online, and that's what our partners can do. It really is easy! If the business knew that they could make that happen as easily as they can, I'm sure they would do it. But I think a lot of them feel like they have no one to help them.

Ed O’Keefe: True, true. And inventory is not just products. Inventory is their time, if they're a service-based business. It's doing home inspections, window installations - that inventory is really their calendar. You can fill your calendar of those 8 to 10 hours a day online, and you can ecommerce-ify yourself as a service-based business.

3. Ecommerce works best as a comprehensive end-to-end experience. And the tools are now available for small businesses to achieve that.

Willem: Building on something Gib said, something that's winning right now in this COVID world is Omnichannel. Omnichannel was such a big theme before COVID, and it just became that blanket strategy for so many large brands. Today, if you look at who's doing well, Target, Walmart, Tesla, even Nike, they all have this blended way of in-store, online buying, and they're good with their whole social media strategy. So how can we make that relevant to a small business? How can we help those small businesses to have a comprehensive end-to-end strategy to compete against these large multinationals that are so well positioned for what we're going through right now? The way that they're making their products available on mobile, and all these different platforms - I think that point of us providing that end-to-end solution for small businesses could be really powerful, and help them compete at a local level against these multinational brands. 

4. It can be hard to teach old (or successful) dogs new tricks

Brendan King: People that have busy and established clientele can be the hardest to move online. I was talking about it to my hair guy, and he just wouldn't do it.

But I want to book my stuff online. I don't want to phone somebody, and look at my schedule, and see if something matches - I don't want any of that. I just want to click and do it. But he's so busy already that he just doesn’t care. So now I'm going to his son, who does have his stuff online.

Bryan Larson: There's an important message in there for the service industry. Ecommerce Is not just about me looking for goods. It’s also about making my bookings easy. Just let me book a service easily! But I think you're right, Brendan. For a lot of these companies, they're already fully booked and they don't see why they should make the effort of going online. But they don't understand that there's an experience play, that people actually want it because it's easier.

5. With a bit of out-of-the-box thinking, ecommerce can work for any vertical

Jacqueline Cook: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what purchases happen online, and I think going into COVID, I just thought, it's always low involvement purchases, things that are below $500. Nobody is ever going to buy thousands of dollars online and have it shipped.

But we've seen this! We've seen people purchase Tesla's, and we've seen people purchase even $6,000 bikes at the Bike Doctor and have curbside pick-up. Because they can.

Jeff Folckemer: The thing that's helped me through the last few months is being able to do Telemedicine. Obviously, you guys all know, I had some surgery, but it's been great to not have to travel to go see these doctors and wait. They've created secure two-way video, and they do things like have you put your eye against the camera while they look into it, and all kinds of things like that.

It's actually bizarre how far Telemedicine has come over this COVID period. And I'll tell you, it’s been one thing that has affected a heck of a lot of folks. And it really is ecommerce, you’ve got to think of it that way. They take payment while they’ve got you on the phone, they pop up a little screen and enter your credit card for your co-pay. It's insane what they can do now over the secure connection.

About the Author

Courtney is a Content Marketing Specialist at Vendasta who loves spending her days researching and writing about...anything really, she's honestly a pretty big nerd. When she's not blogging up a storm, you can find her collecting too many instruments while only half-learning to play them, watching too much Netflix, or planning a trip to visit all the friends she's left behind everywhere she's lived in the past decade.

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