2020 was an incredible year for eCommerce — 10 years of growth in just three months saw leaders in the field pioneering faster, hyper-personalized experiences while neophytes jumped aboard the bandwagon with fresh ideas. Businesses need to be prepared to keep shifting toward this new eCommerce reality.

As business leaders navigate and seize opportunities in this new and expanded market, they’ll inevitably face a few roadblocks. For example, supply chains will now seem outdated; the ways we move and stock products will need reinvention. Transforming traditional and analog models into high-speed, efficient digital experiences is going to be a challenging task.

Despite these challenges, the shift will also be quite lucrative. According to a global eCommerce growth study, eCommerce sales increased by nearly 15% in 2019 and by about 32% through the first three quarters of 2020. A pattern of change was already forming with consumers becoming digital-savvy and increasingly getting used to the convenience of online checkouts and delivery. But we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

What new eCommerce norms mean for the future of business

While this unprecedented level of eCommerce growth may slow as vaccines are distributed, the expectations the pandemic has created aren’t going away anytime soon.

For starters, social restrictions imposed by the pandemic have already shifted consumer behavior in a significant manner. Shopify studied 11 different markets and found that 84% of respondents shopped online during the first wave of the pandemic — and most of those people came from older demographics that, until recently, weren’t big proponents of eCommerce.

Consumer needs combined with online shopping’s inherent convenience has likely signaled a shift in traditional eCommerce demographics. The sheer number of consumers who want to purchase online will change how businesses must operate, and infrastructures will need to adjust — something they’ve struggled to do in recent months.

Without adequate provisions (e.g., ensuring correct inventory levels, order processing capabilities, etc.), growth can quickly take a sour downturn. Delayed or faulty orders, shoddy customer service, and regression in product quality can yield some miserable customers and — ultimately — a steadily declining trajectory for once-promising companies.

How to prepare for an eCommerce revolution

New business realities also bring new responsibilities. In this case, the shift to eCommerce means learning new skills and making new investments. While producing and stocking items is cheaper with an online storefront than a brick-and-mortar hub, businesses must now take the time to develop and operate their websites.

Companies — particularly small businesses — need to develop new capabilities and train new staff, often from scratch. Despite the challenges, it’s still possible for digital newbies to succeed. Here are some action steps you can take today to ensure your business is primed to overcome these challenges and maintain growth.

1. Create a watertight life raft

Detailed plans have a way of working out. Studies show that companies with fleshed-out business plans are 16% more likely to attain viability than those that lacked strategies.

Your business plan will be your best friend as you transition to eCommerce and help your company stay afloat. Writing down your plan — in complete detail — will give your organization a road map of strategies that lead directly to clear-cut objectives.

Even if much of your eCommerce journey remains to be discovered, working from a business plan will eliminate most unnecessary surprises. Plus, you’ll be prepared to budget and manage your finances to cope when any unexpected hurdles appear.

2. Make progress more likely by tracking it

As with any business objective, you’ll want to measure KPIs and adjust your strategy accordingly while adapting to eCommerce. Start by determining which success markers are meaningful to you and then attaching KPIs to related milestones.

You might choose to focus on conversion rate or the number of visitors to your site that turn into buyers. You could track customer satisfaction and use on-site surveys to assess user happiness. Whatever is important to you, track your progress while nudging the needle on your productivity and bottom line.

CRM solutions. First-party data insights. Investing in fulfillment and automation. These are just a few of the trends expected to emerge within the eCommerce industry this year, but they’re surely not the only ones you’ll need to keep tabs on.

Forecast trends whenever possible. They will help you please consumers in the near future and use your investment dollars wisely. A trend like green consumerism, for instance, will be significant as you design and roll out products to Millennial consumers. More people are choosing to take a stand for sustainability — if you can speak to those people with your business choices, you may win over a loyal bunch of shoppers.

Yes, staying present with your eCommerce strategy is the surest way to keep it on track. Just don’t lose sight of what might be ahead and how that future could affect your business.

Easily keep your business plan as up to date as your website. Get the insights you need to grow your eCommerce business. Get LivePlan

4. Learn and grow with feedback

Getting feedback from every area of your business is vital for steering your growth in the right direction. Feedback from customers is great. You certainly don’t want to interfere with purchases or pester people, but you can look for creative ways to log satisfaction at the browsing, buying, and delivery stages.

Feedback will give you the fuel you need to make your website experience more personalized. Customers will begin to feel like you understand them, their needs, and their desires. Building this bridge will ultimately inspire consumers to cross over and engage with your eCommerce services.

5. Balance manual labor and automation to avoid errors

Human error is inevitable in business, and the lack of a personal touch is common online. Avoid needless errors by backing up your manual processes with automated technology.

Shift your traditional or antiquated systems onto newer programs. You could, for example, outsource your order fulfillment to a third party. You could also automate inventory levels so customers can see immediately when products they frequently buy are running out of stock. Whatever you do, allow automation and human context to work in tandem to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

6. Create a clear line of communication with your supply chain

As your business embraces eCommerce and prepares for growth, your supply chain will be your lifeblood. How products are made, moved, shipped, and delivered can be the difference between happy customers and disgruntled ones.

Start with your internal communications by making sure team members know the systems they’re using. Maintain clear means of updating stock levels, demand, and goals to keep your supply chain transparent. This transparency is important for you and your customers, but it’s also useful insight for every manufacturer, shipping carrier, and logistics provider along the way. Increased clarity will inspire more trust in your system and higher growth potential.

Embracing eCommerce for business growth

Staggering levels of growth have already transformed the eCommerce landscape and altered consumer behavior — perhaps permanently. While this pace might seem shocking or intimidating, you can chart a path forward for your business. Once you embrace the unprecedented growth of eCommerce, you can begin to enjoy the spoils of this shift.

AvatarJan Bednar

Jan Bednar is the CEO and founder of ShipMonk, a technology company reimagining third-party shipping logistics. Bednar — a native of the Czech Republic — moved to America to attend Florida Atlantic University, where his entrepreneurial interests piqued enough to start BedaBox, a shipping startup that became ShipMonk’s predecessor. Bednar lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida.