How to keep your customers online when in-person shopping picks up
When the pandemic began, the owners of the Boxcar Social wine and coffee bar chain were already working on a parallel coffee roasting business and the e-commerce technology that goes with it.
But the lockdowns prompted the Toronto-based company to focus more on online sales – and it hasn’t looked back.
In addition to selling local wines and craft beer, Boxcar and its sister company, Subtext Coffee Roasters, import coffee and wine that would not otherwise be available in Canada. They started selling wine online, alongside wine subscriptions and organized gift boxes, as a pandemic hub.
The new revenue stream has been a huge success for the company, says co-owner Alex Castellani, whose team plans to expand their online offerings and launch online coffee courses even as the company opens. .
“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into these systems and made it easy for people to engage in these products,” he says, noting that the web has been a great way to educate customers about the products of the company, which come from – select producers and wineries who have interesting stories.
When businesses began reopening a few months ago, Mr. Castellani briefly worried that consumers deprived of an in-person experience would abandon online orders.
“But I don’t think it will,” he said. “E-commerce was all the rage before the pandemic. “
Seasonally adjusted e-commerce sales in Canada peaked in May 2021, according to Statistics Canada, with many customers returning to physical stores when the company reopens. A May report from market research firm Statista predicts e-commerce sales in Canada will continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace than the previous year, each year through 2025.
Experts say brands that want to keep their customers online should focus on exceptional customer service, communication and order fulfillment amid the challenges of the international supply chain.
“In this economy, the selling side is probably the easiest part,” says marketing consultant Kevin Mcisaac, president of Hot Marketing Inc, based in Kelowna, British Columbia.
He says supply chain issues have caused many large retailers to run out of stock on key items, leading customers to seek alternatives online.
“Right now people have nothing to sell and there are all kinds of demands in the market,” says Mcisaac.
Small ecommerce businesses can be more agile when it comes to vendors, as long as they plan ahead and make sure they’ve organized a backup, adds Mcisaac, who works with some clients on plans as far back as 2025.
He says customers are more likely to buy from the company that has the item in stock than from a company that sells it for less but is facing delays.
“Know what your niche is, have a constant and wonderful flow of communication,” he advises, “and if you can do what you say you will do, they’ll be raving fans for the next five or 10 years. “
At the start of the pandemic, “many [small business owners] sat and waited while Amazon ate their lunch, ”Mcisaac adds, noting that this has resulted in six to eight months of business losses and numerous shutdowns.
He believes that the small businesses that survive will have less competition and more revenue streams – like an online store – and the additional understanding that service above and beyond is one of the main reasons customers come back. Examples of good service include delivery options, in-store pickup, and a great returns policy to maintain customer patronage and trust.
“Confidence is huge,” says Mcisaac, and this is an area where small businesses have the opportunity to outperform larger competitors. “If someone trusts you, they’ll shop with you. Period.”
Mr. Mcisaac also foresees increased use of web tools that help the customer stay connected and find what they want faster, such as chatbot widgets: “Anything that makes the website look almost more like an experience in person, ”he says. “I think it’s huge.”
Mr. Castellani of Boxcar says he would like to get to a point where his company can have a dedicated employee chatting with customers on their websites.
“It would be super cool if we could have someone really knowledgeable, so when someone is on our online store, they could have a real-time live chat with someone to guide them. It is an aspiration for us.
Other ideas for forward-thinking e-commerce entrepreneurs include harnessing specialist influencers and selling on social media, says retail consultant Doug Stephens, founder of consultancy firm Retail Prophet.
He notes that British luxury fashion house Burberry is currently hosting fashion shows on the interactive live streaming service Twitch.
Mr. Stephens believes direct shopping will continue to grow as it connects the customer to the brand’s story, which builds loyalty and combines commerce and entertainment.
“The line between these two things is evaporating,” he says. “It’s totally conceivable that you could go online and just browse the channels (direct shopping)… and buy on the fly.”