The Benefits and Challenges of Starting an Online Store During COVID-19

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Are your entrepreneurial gears turning since you’ve been stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic? With ample time on your hands and a wealth of knowledge at your disposal, there’s never been a better time to build an online business.

That’s especially true as people around the world are turning to online shopping to fulfill their needs during the COVID-19 outbreak. U.S. e-commerce spending is up more than 30 percent compared to the same time last year, CNBC reports, and it’s not all going to staples. Online shoppers are also spending more money on entertainment, electronics, health and beauty, and other non-essentials as they seek ways to maintain normalcy during the pandemic.

That presents a significant opportunity for e-commerce entrepreneurs, but finding e-commerce success during the pandemic isn’t without challenges. Before opening your online store, here’s what you need to know.

COVID-19 Comes With E-commerce Challenges

Starting an e-commerce business during the coronavirus pandemic requires overcoming challenges like these:

  • Supply chain disruptions may slow shipments or make items hard to find. To cope, keep a close eye on inventory and safety stock and identify multiple suppliers for core products.
  • Shipping times are also likely to slow for consumers. Online merchants should prominently display information about lead times and avoid overpromising.
  • Bulk purchases pose another inventory management challenge for stores, both online and off-line. Consider limiting purchase quantities of high-demand items to avoid unexpected stock-outs.
  • There’s also the question of how long the pandemic will last. Business plans should address multiple scenarios to reflect how the pandemic might progress. Include innovative ideas to help pivot your business if the pandemic worsens and after it ends.
  • You’ll also need to address cybersecurity issues and concerns to ensure your business’s safety and your customers’ data. 

Proactive Inventory Management Will Be Essential

Inventory management indeed is one of the biggest challenges facing e-commerce businesses during the pandemic. With supply chain disruptions occurring globally, many retailers find it difficult to stock items as fast as they’re selling them. That not only leads to bare (virtual) shelves, but it can cause businesses to oversell things or even miss out on sales after new stock arrives.

Real-time inventory management is a must for avoiding inventory problems in the fast-moving world of e-commerce. With a real-time system, inventory counts are automatically updated as stock is received and sold, so there’s no discrepancy between online and warehouse numbers. Implementing real-time inventory management requires two key components:

1. Software: With more features than any spreadsheet, cloud-based inventory management software makes it possible for businesses to monitor inventory levels, schedule reorders, and forecast future demand, all in real-time.

2. Inventory tags: Businesses have a few options for inventory tagging, but when efficiency is a priority, RFID is the preferred solution. But while RFID tags are great for reducing labor costs and speeding up warehouse operations, they are more expensive than alternatives like barcode tags. RFID systems also come with data security concerns.

Building an Online Store is Easier Than You Think

While there are challenges in running an e-commerce store during the pandemic, getting your online store up and running shouldn’t be one of them. Entrepreneurs today have no shortage of options for off-the-shelf e-commerce solutions that make it possible to open an online store, whether you’re a total tech wiz or can’t write a line of HTML.

Keep in mind, however, that not all e-commerce platforms are the same. You’ll want to choose a different platform if you’re selling a single item versus an extensive product catalog. The same goes for e-commerce retailers that use dropshipping versus in-house or third-party fulfillment. Do your research and talk to other retailers in your niche to determine your business’s best e-commerce solution.

Even with an off-the-shelf e-commerce solution, it pays to talk to a professional when building your online store. Whether you need help learning the ins and outs of SEO, building your social media presence, or just thinking through your e-commerce strategy, the right professionals can help you quickly transform your e-commerce business from a budding idea into a profitable online store.