Many entrepreneurs and business owners have found new opportunities in these uncertain, volatile times.
While many small businesses have had to close or scale down their operations, people continue to launch new companies and products at a 74% faster pace compared to a decade ago. Many of these new businesses and products are thriving.
A significant part of succeeding today involves pivoting to online sales.
E-commerce had been growing exponentially for several years, and 2020 shattered all records and projections. According to the Mastercard Economics Institute, global online sales increased $900 billion in 2020 over the prior two-year trend. According to a global survey, about 36% of consumers now shop online weekly, an increase from 28% before the pandemic.
If you are considering pivoting your own retail business to sell online or planning to start an e-commerce business, be sure you avoid the common mistakes business owners, and entrepreneurs make when initially starting a business.
Challenge: Navigate retailer requirements
You might start selling your products “direct to consumer” or DTC, meaning selling primarily through your website and promoting your online store through social media.
If you do this, you’re not alone. Data compiled in Shopify’s Direct-to-Consumer Guide shows e-commerce is expected to account for 6.6% of all consumer packaged goods (CPG) sales by 2022. The DTC movement accounts for 40% of the sales growth in that sector alone.
DTC sales are encouraging, but what happens when you attract the attention of a major retailer or want to diversify your channel strategy via online marketplaces?
Often, this means you need to rethink your company’s brand identity and brand strategy because you’ll be competing on a global scale against many other vendors. And, you’ll need to consider product packaging – both for shipping products and as part of the customer’s experience. You’d be surprised to hear what most businesses get wrong when it comes to product packaging.
You also have to make sure you’re ready with the basics. For example, one of the most critical requirements for partnering with companies like Amazon, Walmart Marketplace, or Google Shopping is an authentic Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).
A GTIN is a globally unique product identifier encoded into a UPC barcode. They are available for $30 per GTIN and are critical for building your credibility because they validate ownership of your products.
But these unique product identifier numbers can’t be made up or bought second-hand. Retailers and online marketplaces like Amazon may hide or reject your product listing if the GTIN is not directly sourced from GS1 US and registered to your company in the GS1 database.
Be ready to capitalize immediately when a big E-commerce vendor comes calling.
That’s what happened with Moonlit Skincare, an indie brand of bedtime skincare products. It already built a robust e-commerce foundation complete with barcodes when Nordstrom approached the brand for its holiday assortment.
Stephy Kim, one of Moonlit’s co-founders, recalls:
Their onboarding process was very speedy. We had just a few weeks to get product made, packed, marked, shipped to their warehouse, and to have all product data input into their system. And since Nordstrom required GS1 UPCs on all products, we were relieved to have already obtained the necessary GS1 barcodes.
Challenge: Think long term
The pandemic has upended life as we knew it, but we will eventually come out on the other side.
Make sure you build a post-pandemic life for your products to enjoy the bounty beyond.
Challenging times often create opportunities for innovation.
That’s exactly what Jen Voigt saw when she founded her company, Facakes, at the height of the pandemic in 2020.
Hosting a birthday party for her son, Voigt found herself questioning the tradition of blowing out candles on a birthday cake when everyone wore masks. She invented Facakes, which are plastic cakes the birthday celebrant can use to blow out candles without spreading germs.
Voigt is confident that Facakes will live on after the pandemic. According to Voigt,
There has always been a group of consumers who didn’t like the idea of someone blowing on their cake, and there are a number of health concerns for people with allergies and immunocompromised people who can benefit from a safer option for celebrating with friends and family.
Voigt’s advice to small businesses just starting: “Be original, carve out a niche for yourself. Get your product into the hands of those who might need it.” Voigt gifts Facakes to nursing homes, for example.
Challenge: Become an expert
We are all consumers and know a good user experience.
The best product listings show products from multiple angles and provide helpful information about colors, sizes, fabrics, care instructions, and how the product was made.
But creating that “wow” moment for your customers requires work on the backend.
Small business owners just starting may not realize they need to come up to speed quickly on the way the retail supply chain works.
The motivated brand owners we talked to discussed the importance of research and advice seeking. Sarah Cline’s company, Milanblocks, sells fashion products like handbags and phone cases on its website using Shopify and major retail websites. Cline, originally from China, educated herself on product inventory requirements such as seasonal demand and how to anticipate different quantities of products through YouTube and other online resources. She quickly came to understand that retailers would require UPC codes.
I expected obtaining GTINs would be very challenging, but it was easier than I expected, and I was able to work with big retailers as a result.
Many solution providers specialize in helping small brands organize their product details and tell their product stories. They provide expert insight into how successful brands can reach their target audiences and ensure brand loyalty from the earliest product launch stages.
Selling online presents unlimited growth opportunities, enabling companies to reach far beyond their geographic locations. If you haven’t yet pivoted to selling online, this is your chance to embrace the new normal and look for opportunities to grow your business through E-commerce.
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