It’s no longer a secret that COVID-19 has changed all our lives. Beyond the efforts of social distancing and the major economic and psychological consequences, this crisis has, and will have for the foreseeable future, an important impact on the way in which the population establishes its consumption habits and; therefore, also on the way in which companies make their good and/or services available.
Emergency shift towards online businesses
We are all aware that for businesses that are considered “non-essential”, the government only allows businesses with an e-commerce service to continue to operate. This situation, of course, has given an advantage to those who already had their platform in place, however; a large number of companies, such as Le Décapsuleur, a local artisanal craft beer boutique with a storefront on a street located in Griffintown, had determined early on in the beginning of the crisis that it would be more advantageous, despite the costs associated with setting up these systems, to follow the trend of the virtual business. With the latest news and the announcement of the extension of the break until May 4, for several companies, it is no longer a question of choice, but of survival. If you want to save your business, e-commerce is now your lifeline!
A temporary solution or a new long-lasting trend?
Many question the value of such a heavy investment for this sort of transformation. Will the return on investment justify the expense? Well it’s a safe bet to say that yes. We’ve all heard many times over people talking about a return to “normal”, while “normal” will likely never be the same again. Society will be profoundly transformed by this crisis and consumer habits will be no different.
The Legault government has communicated that the reprisal of activities will be a gradual one, and that companies that can offer their services in a “safe” manner will be given priority. In addition the premiere went on to state that prior to the start of the COVID-19 crisis only 12% or retail business in Quebec was done online and that discussions are already underway towards the establishment of support programs for businesses in order to encourage the transformation towards virtual commerce or e-commerce. The new “Panier Bleu” or “Blue Basket” is the first step in this direction. This “push” will likely have positive impact on companies who will most likely see it as a way of recovering additional aid.
Lastly, if we take into account the companies that that have already made the leap towards putting their business online, and don’t want to see their investment being put onto a shelf, the trend will grow and we must continue to support the online operations as a clear means to reaching the target consumers and the realization that online shopping is to here to stay.
The quality and efficiency of your platform; as important as those of your products!
Now comes the million-dollar question… How do you ensure that your virtual business is as successful as your storefront? As you are already aware, the criteria for quality and efficiency are not quite the same in both instances. Having a beautiful display or showcase of quality products and good marketing both are major considerations, however; a whole new range of criteria that was never even considered has now become your focus and is a major determining factor when it comes to quality…
The main element of any e-commerce manager should prioritize is the quality assurance of their platform. Your business can have all the bells and whistles of the most beautiful online store, offering a wide range of irresistible high quality products, at a most reasonable price. What is the point if the client cannot complete their transaction? We have seen it many times since the start of the crisis; a ridiculous waiting time to place an order, pages that take an eternity to download, not to mention those that do not download at all. The collapse of overloaded platforms is a recurring problem now. Why do you think that is? These platforms were simply put in place without having been rigorously tested for quality assurance in an environment where the given traffic is higher than the norm. Many companies think that the process of QA testing is too long, heavy or even expensive to be worth it, so they choose to disregard this important step. It should; however; be noted that that this not necessarily the case and that generally speaking it will be more expensive to deal with the issues generated by an ineffective platform rather than taking the time to properly establish your quality assurance practices.
To elaborate on this point, let’s review the example of a well-known local Quebec based company; IGA. Their purchasing platform; iga.net has been offering online grocery orders for the last few years. Since the start of this crisis, IGA’s platform, which is generally very efficient, has found itself overwhelmed with more traffic than usual, reaching and even exceeding the capacity limit on their platform. Without having been in a position to verify the limits in advance and resolve any related issues, a large number of Quebecers tried, as best they could, to place their orders on the online platform to finally give up and turn to other options. How many unfinished orders, abandoned carts, lost clients, and damage from negative reputation has IGA suffered as a result? Wouldn’t the investment in quality assurance and testing for the platform have paid off in the end?
In contrast to the last example, many complain about the Amazon; the world’s leading online store, however; the reason for this popularity is very simple; it works! The platform user-friendly, well done, clear, easily searchable and the process works every time, making it consistent. The products are no better in terms of quality, but the platform is, which makes it reliable and efficient!
It’s not surprising to see that when the government announces the establishment of new registration portals for the various programs, many questions from journalists are centered around the efficiency and access to the platforms. Regardless of the product or service offered, it is only of interest if it is readily accessible to the public.
The takeaway point here is that in order to successfully shift your business to an online business there needs to be as much weight on the quality of the platform as there is on the quality of the products being offered. You need to deliver a quality experience to your clients, avoiding unnecessary wait times, pages that won’t download, or transactions that can’t be completed. Sites should be effectively tested using the highest quality assurance practices, otherwise your clientele will abandon you before they even discover your product line.