4 Critical Steps to Success in Retailers' Pandemic-Driven Rush to Digitization
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Right now, the global retail industry is facing its most challenging period in recent memory. Across the world, brick-and-mortar shops are operating under severe restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. In many places, they're hardly operating at all.

But their loss has been the gain of eCommerce giants like Amazon. As the pandemic forced shoppers to stay home, it also drove them right into Amazon's waiting arms. The sudden shift propelled the online retail giant to new heights, doubling its net profits year over year. In many ways, the situation has brought an abrupt end to the ongoing battle between traditional retail and eCommerce - and it's pretty clear who has won.

Now, as the peak holiday shopping season approaches, the remaining brick-and-mortar retailers have a choice. They can adapt to the new normal, or they can end up a footnote in history. To adapt, they'll need to undergo a digital transformation close to overnight. The good news is, there's never been a better time for them to do it, technologically speaking. But building a digital presence overnight isn't easy. Here are the four most important things for businesses to focus on as they attempt to pull it off.

Choosing the Right Selling Platform

Speaking generally, a business with little to no online selling experience shouldn't attempt to build its own eCommerce site from the ground up. There are just too many variables to worry about, and too much time is needed to complete the development cycle required. Instead, they should focus on choosing the right all-in-one eCommerce platform for their specific needs.

There are more than a few worthwhile options to choose from, and picking the right one is no easy task. Many businesses opt for well-known providers like Shopify and Squarespace, but both can be a bit expensive for small retailers just getting started online. For them, a low-cost option like Zyro might be a better fit, and the platform stacks up well against its competitors. For example, even on Zyro's basic plan, you can still integrate advanced tools like Hotjar heatmapping and Facebook Messenger for advanced user tracking and customer service chatbot functionality.

Devising a Data Collection Policy

One of the advantages of selling online that previously offline retailers have to adjust to is that there are more opportunities in a digital environment to collect and use data. In many industries, the data itself can be a business's biggest asset. But for retailers, there are ways to use collected data to impact the customer experience in real-time. For example, implementing a recommendation engine to personalize product pages can supercharge your conversion rates, and also inform part of your email marketing strategies. But getting to that point means defining a clear data collection policy from day one.

To do it right, it's critical to decide what types of customer data you need to collect, and then assess the legal requirements associated with the process you're considering. For businesses operating in the US, it's a fairly straightforward process. But for any business operating in the EU, there are strict legal guidelines that have to be followed. And because the internet has no borders, it's almost always a good idea to design with international (stricter) data standards in mind. That will make sure that the business isn't exposed to any unintentional liability later on, and also shield it from the reputational damage

Planning for Cybersecurity

As the pandemic has driven retailers online, it has also created a target-rich environment for hackers and cyber thieves. That's because many of the businesses who rushed to set up their online stores failed to adequately address the security risks associated with eCommerce sites. And the bad guys are doing everything they can to take advantage of that fact.

The good news is that many of the eCommerce platforms businesses are turning to have built-in security measures and provide good guidance on keeping sites secure. But businesses would be foolish to leave their security to chance. Not when a single cyberattack could put them out of business for good. To make sure that they aren't vulnerable, it's a good idea for retailers to partner with an established cybersecurity firm, or to bring a credentialed cybersecurity expert on to manage the ongoing task of defending the company's digital assets.

Creating a High-Performance Digital Marketing Strategy

One of the trickiest things retailers have to do when building an online presence is to build a digital marketing strategy that's effective enough to support it. For retailers who are used to display advertising, in-store demonstrations, and local direct-mail campaigns forming the core of their marketing efforts, shifting to a digital-first environment is quite an adjustment. With little experience to guide them, many end up making Herculean efforts that yield poor results.

To avoid that fate, newly-digital retailers have to educate themselves about what digital marketing tactics provide the best bang for the buck. That way they can create a cost-effective digital strategy that can shepherd their existing customer base toward their eCommerce storefront while attracting new customers who may be outside of their geographic area. Getting this step right can make or break a business that's transitioning from an in-person retail operation to a digital one. And right now, given the economic circumstances, it's unlikely that a brick-and-mortar retailer would survive losing even a single one of its previous customer base.

Prepared for the Future

Although the circumstances that are driving brick-and-mortar retailers toward eCommerce are far from ideal, the situation isn't as bad as it could be. After all, even the smallest of businesses have a wealth of options available to them to build a thriving online sales presence. And the costs involved have never been lower. And given the prevailing trends that existed before the pandemic, it's a step most retailers were going to have to take sooner or later anyway.

The bottom line here is that although the situation affords retailers little time to get their digital houses in order, it's not an impossible task. All they have to do is make sure to cover all of the important bases - as highlighted here - to make sure to get off to a solid, safe, start. After that, it's down to their entrepreneurial spirit and hard work. And that's something that comes with the retail territory in any selling environment.

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