“You can’t ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
As if local business owners didn’t face enough challenges every day. From inventory management to hiring employees, successfully running small and medium businesses (SMBs) is not for the faint of heart. Enter a global pandemic, with sweeping health restrictions. It’s an unprecedented curveball, and a massive wrench thrown into business plans around the world. COVID-19 forced business owners to figure out how to stay afloat and safely serve their communities. But they were not alone.
Marketing agencies, managed service providers and IT specialists who support local businesses with their digital footprint needed answers, too. They are helping their clients pivot to ecommerce and provide solutions to problems that evolved as quickly as the virus spread. In March 2020, as part of a company-wide coordinated effort to support SMBs and groups that serve them, Vendasta pivoted its development efforts and launched a central hub of free resources for businesses to help them weather the COVID-19 crisis and economic downturn.
“Our core purpose at Vendasta is to drive local economies. Half the world’s employees work at small and medium businesses. They fuel the world’s economies. They invest in our communities, create jobs, and grow the middle class. Most of all, they make our neighborhoods worth living in. COVID-19 has put a disproportionate strain on them. We wanted to help by providing critical tools to get SMBs and their supporters through this.”
Developers Bring WooCommerce and WordPress To The Platform to Help Local Business Survive
On April 9, 2020 the Vendasta website team released Website Express, a free solution to help local agencies provide ecommerce solutions to their SMB clients. Website Express allows users to quickly and easily create a website and online store powered by WordPress and WooCommerce. One year later, Website Express has seen more than 18,000 activations.
“The website team and developers just hit the ground running and started putting something together. We needed to make an easy-to-use skeleton of what somebody would need to start their online business. The process included utilizing the WooCommerce plugin to operate and to do all of the ecommerce,” says Vendasta Associate Product Manager Sophie Kokott.
More than 4.4 million live websites currently use WooCommerce world wide. An open source plug-in for WordPress, it's versatile nature and easy-to-use capability made it the right fit for Website Express. Armed with the right answer and a propensity to take action, the team had the first slice of the solution ready for release within weeks.
“For our partners and their SMB clients who were just trying to find the quickest and cheapest way to survive the pandemic, it seemed to be a really good option. And, for someone who’s more comfortable with ecommerce and has played around or built ecommerce websites before, it can be as customizable as they need it to be.”
Website Express was launched along with a host of other no-cost solutions in the Local Business Online Toolkit, giving local agencies access to free Vendasta Platform-based tools, and helping local businesses transition to selling online. The Local Business Online Toolkit includes free trials of online store capabilities, products that support local business communications and marketing, booking and scheduling software, automated reporting, and more.
Positioning Partners to Fill the Gap
Right behind the herd of SMBs rushing to get their businesses up and selling online, was an equally large group of experts trying to steer business owners in the right direction.
Using Google Cloud platform as the infrastructure, WordPress as the content management system and the WooCommerce plug-in to facilitate secure online shopping, Vendasta developers achieved something big in a very small amount of time.
“We decided to leverage the brand power of these highly trusted ecommerce brands because we knew that, in turn, it would give our partners stronger positioning with their own clients,” Kokott says.
“Taking a step into the world of ecommerce is scary because it involves transactions. It really requires the user to trust the software they're using. And so we wanted to make sure we were positioning ourselves and our partners for success by using trusted ecommerce products.”
The Future of Local Business Ecommerce
Since its launch in April 2020, the website team has worked tirelessly to update, improve, and enhance the capabilities of both Website Express and Website Pro solutions.
“We’ve worked to add new prompts to our dashboard to really inform users of what to do next and where to go in the product. We've also really enhanced our support, with 24/7 access for partners who are jumping into ecommerce and need the extra help,” Kokott says.
“We have an in-product support chat feature and other simple but meaningful improvements that just really make that partner, and in turn, their SMBs feel more supported in that ecommerce process.”
As the website team forges ahead through 2021, it has two primary objectives with the product:
- Arming partners with the resources they need to thrive in ecommerce sales
- Closing the gap for SMBs using the product to help them get to their first sale
“We’re very focused on building more connections between our product and the rest of the Vendasta platform to make the ecommerce journey a little bit more seamless -- from partners selling the solution to their clients to the SMB getting their first sale and creating loyal repeat customers for that business,” Kokott says.
“Going forward we're going to focus on bolstering and adding additional ecommerce features, making the process even easier.”
Kokott notes that managing inventory is a huge pain point for ecommerce end users and it’s a challenge the Vendasta development team is actively working to tackle.
Selling Ecommerce Under Your Brand
With the Vendasta Platform, partners get access to ecommerce solutions for their clients, backed by big-brand power, and receive an entire ecosystem of interconnected digital solutions.
“We have connections to our Sales and Success Center CRM, proof of performance reporting, the client-facing Business App, customer lists, and a whole host of other things. The website product is very interconnected to the entire Vendasta platform. So not only is it a really great product for an SMB actually going into ecommerce, it's also a fantastic product for our partners to start selling, to get into that ecommerce space,” Kokott says.
“Many partners will be nervous or cautious about getting into the ecommerce space because they know it takes followup and more work than just a single website launch. Luckily Vendasta has a team of experts, to manage any fulfillment they might need and all our partners have to do is sell and start to see that recurring revenue roll in.”