The Big, Post-Virus Push Toward E-commerce
There’s no doubt in most decorators’ minds that new online buying patterns will impact how they sell and process orders. In fact, U.S. online sales increased 49% in April over 2019, according to Adobe Analytics. For this reason, it is very important to know how to build your online apparel brand.
Retailers expect people to continue shopping online: A survey of 1,200 consumers in late March 2020 found that 90% of shoppers were hesitant to shop in stores because of COVID-19, and 45% expected online shopping to be necessary during the shutdown, according to Retail Systems Research.
E-commerce apparel companies can have an advantage over those businesses that do not allow for an e-commerce customer experience. “E-commerce is a significant source of business for many printers,” says Anthony Corsano, COO and Operations Manager at Brookfield, CT-based Bolt Printing & Embroidery. “You must be able to transact online where you can sell customized apparel without ever talking to your buyer.”
Here are four ways you could change how you approach e-commerce.
1. Beef up (or build) e-commerce stores, for you and your clients.
Apparel sales from e-commerce have become critical during the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, Jen Badger, owner of Jefferson, IA-based ShineOn Designs, didn’t do much selling online. (Iowa’s state government offered general mitigation strategies, rather than mandating a shelter-in-place order.) “When the pandemic hit, we knew cyber space was a great place to focus our sales to keep our revenues up,” she says. “People were home and doing much of their shopping online. It felt like starting a new business.”
Badger says diving into this new channel was a challenge her team approached in methodical steps: choosing an online shopping channel, configuring their online store, evaluating their current processes and reconfiguring them to adapt to the way the orders were coming in, establishing shipping services from the online store, handling changes in the paths of communication with customers, and establishing a contactless curbside pick-up system.
“To add to the challenges changing to e-commerce brought, we still had regular orders coming in,” Badger says. “We switched between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ production formats. We adapted well and kept our shop running during this trying time.”
Corsano calls his operation “a small version of the larger online providers such as a CustomInk” where a customer can choose or upload art, pick their product and imprint method, choose the delivery date, get accurate pricing, and pay online. “People will find you online,” he says. “If they go to your site and they can’t order, they might be on to the next decorator. One hundred percent of decorators should have a website; then they should add an e-commerce option.”
In addition, after you build your e-commerce site, don’t expect your customers to just show up. “Consistently advertise online if you want to attract buyers,” Corsano says. “Free social media posts and paid ads both support that effort.”
Learn More: Creating Engaging Online Content for your Shop
By extension, you might also look into a platform that allows you to manage online stores for your clients, so that their employees, customers and fans can purchase decorated apparel and other products online.
2. Evaluate your backend order management tools.
With so many people teleworking almost overnight, decorators are taking a hard look at their shop technology. Being a fully cloud-enabled shop makes good business sense. If you and your employees can access your order system and CRM database from anywhere, from any device, you can work more efficiently and flexibly. Now’s a good time to link up with possible vendors and demo their solutions.
Learn More: 7 Ways to Streamline your Smaller Print Shop’s Operations
3. You might start relying more on a POD selling model.
Emmy Handen, owner of Colorado Springs, CO-based Bravo Screen Printing & Embroidery, says more and more of her shop’s business keeps moving away from face-to-face interactions. “Often, we don’t even see a customer until they come to pick up their order,” she says.
Similarly, during this dramatic downturn of business, Panama City, FL-based Garment Gear’s team has been hard at work to finally develop e-commerce to mobilize their high-end DTG equipment. “This pandemic has hastened the next web of serious e-commerce platforms,” says Dan Strickland, president.
In Bravo’s case, since the team doesn’t do a whole lot of digital printing, POD and Shopify models don’t work very well. “Even automated online pricing is hard because there are so many variables, like number of colors, shirt style, number of stitches and so on,” Handen says. “However, we do rely heavily on email and screen-sharing apps to communicate with our customers.”
4. You might extend your reach by selling via alternate e-platforms.
In May 2020 Facebook announced its new e-commerce platform called Facebook Shops, followed by Instagram Shops. As part of this announcement, Facebook also said its partnering with Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Channel Advisor, CedCommerce, Cafe24, Tienda Nube and Feedonomics.
“Initial prospects for apparel look huge, especially when decorators have the capability to print on demand with DTG equipment,” Strickland says. “You could also screen print and inventory lower quantities with one-color imprints, like catchy trending sayings on hot market topics.”
The good news in all of this? “I’ve spoken to a lot of decorators since mid-March, and those who are serious about e-commerce have escaped a major downturn in business,” Strickland says.
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