A focus on e-commerce can strengthen your business during uncertain times

As lumberyards are adjusting to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are pivoting to online retail as a means of continuing to serve their local markets while practicing all of the safety guidelines established for essential service businesses.

For anyone who doesn’t yet have a web presence established with at least a few retail items available, you can set one up in a relatively short amount of time using a pre-packaged service such as Shopify. You can instantly buy into a software service like this and start putting items online for sale. However, know that a quick jump into a service like this allows for only a barebones setup. Still, even that small presence can set you on the way to serving local contractors looking for quick ordering and pickup or delivery options.

The most important thing you should have on your website right now is a quick and easy way for contractors to get in touch with you. I recommend a chat option and a phone number that is easily transferred to an employee’s cell phone. Either of these two customer service tools can then be easily managed by a staff member who is working from home.

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Keep in mind that running an online store is in many ways just like running a brick and mortar business. You have to pay to build it, staff it, and market it. You can’t take your website to a trade show and get customers, but instead you take it to Google and work to get noticed there. Just like premium space is available for a fee at the trade shows, the same goes for Google. You might want to pay for more exposure, but know that if you’re not doing enough to build your customer base organically, then that exposure is going to go away once you stop paying for it.

No matter what stage of online retail you may have been ready for, the sudden pivot that this global pandemic has placed on us means that we’re likely to see some changes in how businesses operate even after the various restrictions have been lifted.

I suggest getting something up and running on your website as soon as you can that allows at least your local market customers to find you via search and communicate with you via chat or telephone. Once that is set up, start focusing on small products that you can sell online and ship or set aside for safe customer pickup. You can gradually get those products added to your site and offer a larger shipping area once you are comfortable with that. Again, the focus on your local market will allow for contractors and homeowners who search for lumber products and your town to find you via search. Since you will come up as the local provider of the products they want, these customers can contact you to arrange for ordering, payment, and delivery all while maintaining the proper social distancing guidelines.

The important thing to remember during times like this—when this pandemic causes us to operate our business differently while we’re best taking care of our communities—is that sometimes things look different at the end of a downturn. Certainly, we don’t operate the same now as we did before 2008, and it’s completely likely that this current COVID-19 scenario will change some things for us in the future. By getting a leg up on online sales now, we can hope to be in a better position in years to come.

Bob Heidenreich, owner of The Deck Store and thedeckstoreonline.com in Apple Valley, Minn., has been selling decking and home improvement projects for nearly 40 years. Follow Bob on Twitter: @TheDeckStore

 

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