While nearly the entire world has embraced e-commerce as a major part of the COVID-19 solution, the South African government has decided to not follow suit but do the exact opposite, effectively shut down e-commerce, cutting what could have been a life support for many small businesses, plunging them into the shadow of bankruptcy and the consumers into miserable time at home, with no option to buy cooked food, books or office equipment and many other things the government has declared as non-essential.
Although I am a non-smoker and I certainly don’t want this to be interpreted as encouraging smoking, I am failing to see how a ban on cigarettes sales is helping anybody. All it does is, creating a black market for cigarettes and even further reducing the government’s tax income when it needs it the most.
While the South African government is effectively destroying businesses, some European countries are encouraging businesses to move to online operations by subsidising a large portion of the associated setup costs.
Benefits of E-commerce in Pandemic Environment
When implemented correctly, e-commerce greatly reduces direct human-to-human contact, thereby reducing the risk of infection.
Some of the most notable benefits of e-commerce in the current environment are:
- Keeping many businesses alive, that would have otherwise closed down resulting in job losses.
- Saving lives by allowing elderly people to get what they need without leaving their homes and without unnecessary exposure.
- Allowing consumers to have relatively normal lives while locked down in their homes.
We do expect growth in e-commerce upon the eventual lifting of all restrictions currently imposed on it, but we also expect the growth to be somewhat muted due to the mishandling of e-commerce by the South African government.
Despite the current situation, considering the low cost of setting up an online sales channel, it is a worthwhile investment as it may become the differentiating factor between who survives and who doesn’t, especially in the event of further complications or later repeat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Preparing Your Business for Operation in Pandemic Environment
There are several best practices when it comes to e-commerce during pandemic:
- Eliminate cash handling - all orders should be paid cashless, preferably online.
- Package the products well, preferably in a sealed bag / box..
- Delivery personnel must wear PPE (mask and gloves) and close contact is best avoided.
This is of course not an exhaustive list.
Problems cause opportunities. We are experiencing once in a lifetime event, which will wipe out weak businesses and make the stronger ones even stronger. As cruel as this may sound, it is how nature works too, the fittest survive. The good news is that today with all the technology available at your fingertips you no longer need to be a multi-billion dollar company to have access to the best technology on the market. You can have your e-commerce website setup for a similar cost as a family meal at a restaurant. You can have a cloud PBX telephony system with IVR, cheap international call rates and working on your mobile phone for a similar monthly fee as a fast food meal for your family. So it comes down to your creativity and willingness to put some effort into it, the large corporates no longer have as much competitive advantage, especially in terms of the technology they have access to, as they once used to, so do not be intimidated by them. Use this unique opportunity to position your business for success.