woman picking up curbside takeout from man at restaurant
From offering free shipping to enabling mobile orders, there are many feasible ways that small businesses can enhance their capabilities to create ease for their customers. — Getty Images/Vladimir Vladimirov

Small businesses have faced many challenges in the past year, with the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerated digital changes being two of the biggest. Companies that want to keep surviving (or perhaps thriving) need to keep adapting to current consumer preferences, including improving convenience.

New research from digital strategy and marketing firm Avionos suggests that convenience is now the top reason consumers shop with both major retailers and small local shops. Avionos found that U.S. consumers today feel “overwhelmed with digital communications from brands,” but simplicity and convenience cut through the noise. This suggests small businesses especially need to support customers and make sure there as few barriers as possible to shopping with you.

Here are five ways to make your business more convenient for customers.

Curbside pickup

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the U.S., one way to offer safety and convenience to consumers is through curbside pickup. While this practice varies from store to store, it typically means the customer orders items online and then retrieve their order from the retailer in the parking lot. Curbside pickup dramatically reduces the time COVID-wary shoppers need to spend in the store, and it shows you care about both customer and employee safety.

“Retailers need to not only figure it out now but also post-COVID,” Jeff Baskin, executive vice president of global sales and marketing at Radius Networks, told the National Retail Federation. “Because you’re going to have a high percentage of those customers that are going to continue to use curbside.”

Easy-to-access customer service

One aspect of business that has always been important is customer service. But today, this can take on many new forms, with businesses expected to be broadly accessible in both analog and digital formats. Business owners should try to be available in-person and via phone, online chat, social media and, in some cases, video chat to make the shopping experience more convenient if there are questions or issues.

HubSpot Research indicates that “90% of customers rate an ‘immediate’ response as important or very important when they have a customer service question,” showing that a business’s ability to help consumers quickly can determine whether a business finds success. While live chatting with your online customers might not be feasible or cost-effective, it’s still a good idea to be timely and responsive to customers across multiple channels.

Small businesses — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — have been creating mobile-optimized sites so customers can quickly buy items for pickup or delivery.

Fast or free shipping

Due to Amazon, Zappos and other popular online retailers, consumers have been conditioned to expect free or fast shipping. In fact, the National Retailers Federation’s 2019 Consumer View report showed 75% percent of consumers expect delivery to be free, even if the order costs less than $50. This means that small and large businesses alike should try to offer this as well.

One way to accommodate this expectation while still accounting for sometimes-expensive shipping is to offer multiple shipping options. You could offer to ship items faster with a fee added or offer to ship for free with a longer shipping window. However, when shipping for free, keep in mind that most U.S. consumers are only willing to “wait a maximum of 4.3 days” to receive purchases, according to a 2019 survey from consulting firm AlixPartners.

Online appointments and reservations

The COVID-19 pandemic has redacted customer capacity at many establishments, including restaurants, retailers and services-based companies. As such, it’s become important to implement online appointments and reservations. The plus side of adding online appointments is the convenience for customers, who don’t have to call ahead and can feel comfortable with the number of people at your shop.

Many new tools and services can help customers schedule ahead with businesses. They include:

Simple online and mobile purchasing

One of the most crucial things businesses should do to provide convenience is offer an easy-to-use online and mobile shopping experience. Small businesses — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — have been creating mobile-optimized sites so customers can quickly buy items for pickup or delivery. Mobile sites should load quickly, have clear calls to action and be simple to navigate.

Perhaps most importantly, online and mobile sites must have an intuitive checkout process in order to not lose customers trying to finish a purchase. Sites should not provide additional steps, such as making a user sign up for an account, and should offer a wide array of payment options. Businesses would be wise to accept digital wallet apps such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal and major credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard and American Express.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published November 23, 2020