Are you selling online yet?

In the wake of social distancing, many consumers who rarely purchase online are also starting to frequently place their orders from e-commerce sites. Is this an indication for you to start selling online, too?

4 min readMay 20, 2020
Source: Freepik

“Over 1 in 4 consumers in each of China and India reported they are buying the majority of their items online.” states a recent Google Trends report, published in March 2020.

To put them in numbers, over 10% of the global population prefers buying online. Isn’t this a big enough reason for those businesses that still rely on traditional brick and mortar stores to start selling online? Though this does not mean that traditional stores will not see growth, we imply that it is high time small and medium retail businesses start looking at multiple sales channels, instead of relying on one.

An inspiring digital journey of a couple:

Puneeth and his wife, Bandhana, have been running a boutique for about fifteen years. Until recently, they had sold apparel and accessories only through their physical stores. They had a good number of customers from the neighbourhood around, and other parts of the city too. Their designs were widely appreciated, and their customers spread the good word and some of them even shared the pictures of the designs on social media. Soon, they started getting calls and orders from other cities too.

That’s when the couple took their business online, after much deliberation. They quickly set up an account on Instagram and started sharing their designs on the platform. They’d partnered with Rivigo, a logistics provider, to ship and deliver the items to their customers. In the meantime, they frequently communicated with the customers helping them track the orders, and keeping them updated about their latest products. Their revenues almost quadrupled, after 6 months of going digital. From about 12 orders a day, they now receive 80–90 orders a day.

Pitfalls in scaling the business:

Not everything came easy for them in reaching this stage. Their journey is far from perfect, and they’ve learnt a lot of hard lessons.

  1. Increased operational cost and manual effort
    As the number of orders increased, their effort required to pack the items; coordinate with the logistics partner and customer; track whether or not an order has been received; dealing with receivable payments was becoming a hassle. Not to mention the tedious task of collecting back the product, if the customer was not happy with it. All of these increased their operational costs, thereby decreasing their profit margin. Sometimes, the couple was confused if this process was even viable to continue.
  2. Customer churn
    Earlier, the business owners knew most of the customers personally and offered them products that catered to their needs. They also spoke to the customers regularly and kept them updated about their portfolio, which is no longer the case, as most of Puneeth’s time was occupied in fulfilling the orders that they’d received. A lot of customers were unhappy with the service and started purchasing elsewhere.
  3. Inventory Management
    Before starting to sell online, the couple would fairly predict their sales volume and manage the inventory accordingly. Even if a customer wanted something that was readily unavailable, they would still be able to have the product in stock, in a short time. With the increasing online orders, the variability also started to go up, resulting in mismanagement of inventory. Sometimes the owners would take up the orders, not knowing if that product is available in stock. This caused a lot of problems in fulfilling the orders, again, leading to dissatisfaction among the customers.

However, Puneeth was quick enough to be cognizant of the issues that were cropping up and realized that he had to put in place systems and procedures, which helps him ease running the business. As he had the resources required to build an end-to-end solution, he then got an e-commerce site developed for his business needs, integrated with the existing inventory management system, Razorpay payment gateway, and his logistics partner.

This e-commerce application not only helped solve some of their problems but also helped the business grow. Customers can now keep track of the updated apparel portfolio, check if their desired product is available or out of stock, pay thru the application, and finally, track the products, just as they’d do when they place orders on Amazon, BestBuy, Flipkart, or any other e-commerce site. Their engagement with the business has also increased considerably since the launch of the e-commerce application. For the owners, a lot of manual work has now been automated and the solution has also proven to be cost-effective, giving them an opportunity to rapidly scale.

Final thoughts on selling online

There are a lot of similar businesses who have leveraged the power of the internet, social media, and E-commerce platforms to grow their business. Today, it is even more important for a business to have a digital presence, to be able to communicate with customers online, and deliver the goods at their doorsteps. Again, this does not mean that you’ll have to shut your physical stores and go online, but be open to multiple sales channels. In fact, today when many countries have enforced a lockdown, web search trends show that there is a 300% increase in consumers searching for physical stores that are open.

Source: Think with Google

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