Selling Products and Services During COVID-19
In this uncertain time for businesses, those that adapt quickly have an opportunity to continue transacting and serving customers. The challenge is how to adjust your business model to meet the requirements of social distancing. Here are some actions businesses can take to adapt to COVID-19.
Processing Payments with a Virtual Terminal
For merchants that have built their business accepting payment in person, the requirement for social distancing makes the exchange of money or handling of credit cards much more difficult. Shifting to a model where employees and customers have limited contact requires merchants to find a new solution. That solution could be a virtual terminal.
What is a virtual terminal? A virtual terminal is a feature within a payment gateway technology—a payment processing system that allows a business to get card approval for a purchase without the card present. Instead of a physical machine, the virtual terminal operates within a gateway’s browser-based portal, or app for tablets and smartphones, through which the merchant manages their transactions.
In practice, the virtual terminal enables a business to process card-not-present transactions from anywhere by keying in a customer’s credit card number and information from a phone or mail order. A payment gateway also allows merchants to:
- Create a web payment form for customers to input payment information
- Email an invoice to a customer to pay online, by phone or mail
- Set up recurring billing options for subscriptions or memberships
- Connect to an ecommerce platform (through the gateway API source key)
- Connect to an order management system, or other platform that accepts payment (through the gateway API source key)
And for merchants who have never processed payments online before, rest assured that payment processing through payment gateway technology is a safe alternative. A payment gateway works by using a secure hosted payment page to collect credit card data, and then verifying and sending the data to the processor. Customer data is secured through a process called tokenization. In addition, the best payment gateway will include extensive fraud modules, with features like address verification, to help prevent fraudulent transactions.
Overall, a virtual terminal (through a payment gateway) provides an efficient and secure way to move your card-present business in this new, lower-contact selling model. eMerchant provides payment gateway options to businesses that can be implemented quickly at a very low monthly cost.
Launching an Online Store
While moving to a virtual terminal might be the fastest way to start accepting card-not-present payments, some businesses may also see this as a good time to invest in an ecommerce website. You may, in fact, be in a business category that is booming right now. According to recent research, certain industry segments, like furniture, outdoor, electronics, and home fitness, have seen a spike in online sales in the last month because consumers are spending more time in their homes. For some consumers, now seems like a great time to buy a new couch, computer or even elliptical machine.
A shopping cart platform, such as eCommerceCart, is a software solution that allows a merchant to take their business online. Depending on the complexity of the website envisioned, the set-up timeline could be a deterrent. But, all-in-one platform solutions could help to get an online store up and running more quickly with the following:
- Pre-designed website templates
- Easy image and content additions for product descriptions
- Bulk inventory uploads with pricing, inventory counts and more
- Secure payment gateway included
- Simple connections to major shipping sites
And while ecommerce won’t be a new concept to anyone at this point, the current crisis may be just the push a merchant needs to go online. Once consumers can gather again, an ecommerce website can still remain. Recent articles in our own blog, both during the holiday shopping season or recently regarding Amazon, have highlighted that consumers want (and expect) to shop across multiple channels. So, while in the short term you may need to move your business online, in the future, an online store just may be an additional channel through which you serve your customers.
Delivering Products and Services from a Distance
Of course, a low-contact product delivery model is also necessary with COVID-19, and businesses are having to get creative. Home delivery has certainly exploded in popularity in recent weeks, and if you have the ability to deliver your products to your customers’ homes, you are already in this game…Bravo! But, other businesses may be unable to deliver their product due to cost, geography or industry type, and these merchants are having to adapt in other ways. The drive-thru Farmer’s Market—where a customer drives by the stalls and merchants add products to the trunk of the car—has been an impressive example of even the most traditional business models altering to survive.
But what if you are in the service industry? Consider offering classes via web conferencing or video. Fitness instructors and tutors are leading the way with this idea and keeping subscription revenues intact. Even doctors are meeting with patients online! Think of ways that you can use video technology to add value to your customers and continue to provide your service (and sustain your business).
Marketing during COVID-19
Even though everyone is experiencing change right now, it doesn’t mean you should stop marketing during COVID-19. Depending on your industry or customer type, you will certainly need to adjust your messages, and being sincere and supportive is top priority. But as mentioned, some segments are actually stronger than normal right now, and if you are in those industries, you will want to use email or online marketing to drive traffic and sales.
If your industry categories are soft right now, you may want to consider:
- Free shipping—always a winner, especially when in-store shopping isn’t an option
- Focused promotions—select products or services uniquely beneficial during this time
- Gift certificates—great gift ideas in the current environment and a way to secure revenue now and traffic in the future
Also, you may want to consider providing additional advice/counsel for free to the marketplace. Consumers are at home with idle time to consume content. Now is the time to engage with current and potential customers, provide them with value and either build your brand or further cement your relationship. For example:
- Accountants can provide advice to small businesses
- Wellness professionals can provide tips on managing stress
- Interior designers can provide decorating tips or DIY advice
Use this time to expand your online presence. Whether it’s through your own blog/website or through social media, content is king right now and don’t be shy about what you might have to offer to existing and potential customers. Continuing your marketing during COVID-19 it will keep you relevant and engaged in the marketplace.
No one knows how long social distancing will continue, but what we have learned about consumer behavior, sometimes temporary changes can be the new normal. Once we return to “business as usual,” consumers may retain some of the preferences and learned behaviors from the low-contact business model. We may see a shift in how customers want to be served and their appetite for things such as online payments, for example, may remain long after COVID-19 is gone. Therefore, an investment in new technology and practices could serve not only in the short term, but in the long term as well. Don’t think of this as a quick fix, but as an opportunity to invest in and evolve your business.
*Please note that we only support merchants that are based in the United States or Canada at this time.