Embracing online in the post-COVID world

With COVID-19 restrictions now ended and, despite high case numbers, not likely to return, many business owners may be anticipating the long-awaited return to “normality” that people have been looking forward to virtually since the day the pandemic began.

However, while there is plenty of evidence to suggest that people will return to more in-person shopping this year and that the growth of e-commerce will slow, small business owners in the UK also need to be prepared for the fact that online will continue to be a more prominent part of business than it was pre-pandemic.

It is vital, then, for small business owners to continue embracing online and actively invest in long-term online solutions to tap into the benefits it can deliver. According to a study from TalkTalk Business, six in ten UK SMEs say that customers spend more online than in-person, demonstrating that investing in online is far more than a simple pandemic-related necessity.

Here are three of the best ways to ensure your business reaps the full benefits of a comprehensive online offering in 2022 and is primed for growth in the post-lockdown economy.

Increase your online presence
We’ve written previously about how important a strong online presence is when ramping up your marketing for a special event or important time of year, but it’s also an area in which to focus investment as part of a long-term strategy to optimise the online side of your business.

There’s more to improving your business’ online presence than just making a few more social media posts. More posting is, of course, important in order to get word about your business out, but investing in making this social media usage more targeted can really boost its efficiency and value.

You might consider employing a full-time marketing manager to handle all your online communications, ensuring that content is posted at the right times, at the right frequency and that vital performance metrics are collected and analysed. It may also be worth investing in sponsored posts, which can help your brand awareness grow beyond your existing following more quickly.

Investing in your online presence extends beyond just your social media usage, though. There’s little point in investing in optimising your social if, for example, your business’ branding and website design are not up to scratch. Engaging experienced graphic designers, UX experts and programmers can help you to create an online brand and presence that is both engaging and efficient.

Embrace digital payment
Online payment methods have come a long way from the early days where customers had to manually enter their debit or credit card details each time they wanted to make an online purchase. Nowadays, people’s cards and bank accounts are integrated into their smartphones and they expect purchases to be possible at the tap of a screen.

A vital step for enabling online payments will be integrating these payment methods into your website, not just Visa or Mastercard, but also more modern payment systems like PayPal. You can even choose to integrate newer systems like Klarna, which enable customers to pay for goods in instalments.

To take your digital payment offering even further, though, you can engage a service that is fully integrated with every aspect of your business, from social media to the stockroom. With such a system, customers will be able to browse your catalogue and buy direct from your social media pages, with sales then synchronised with your inventory, for seamless stock management.

Home delivery is a must
This last one virtually goes without saying, but it’s still something that lots of small business owners might be missing out on without even realising how well it could work for them. With customers less likely to venture out to the shops, offering home delivery is absolutely vital to ensuring you don’t miss out on a large sector of the market.

Obviously, this was a necessary response to the pandemic for pubs, restaurants and the like, but now that the days of stay-at-home orders are over, investing properly in a comprehensive home delivery system is also of long-term benefit. Furthermore, delivery is by no means limited to food, all sorts of businesses, from florists to launderettes, are beginning to realise the benefits of delivery.

The key choice in this regard is how you’re going to offer delivery. It might be the case that your online business is small enough that you can satisfy demand through Royal Mail or even a smaller local courier service. However, if you have more ambitious e-commerce aspirations, you can partner with a dedicated delivery provider and integrate their system onto your platform. While this can help you scale-up, though, such providers do typically demand a larger cut of each delivery they fulfil.

As we move further into 2022 and away from the mindset that dominated the pandemic, it seems people are gradually coming to terms with the fact that the “new normal” might be here to stay. While things may never be as desperate for small business owners as they were in the initial days of COVID-19 two years ago, the marketplace has without doubt changed.

The key thing to bear in mind though, is that such changes need not be viewed as potential sources of uncertainty or distress for your business. The more prominent role of online marketing and commerce to UK SMEs is an opportunity to instead demonstrate your agility and optimise your business, potentially even unlocking a next level to your growth.