Better Business Bytes: How to succeed as a small online retailer

The marketplace’s future has always expected to look increasingly online. Present circumstances just accelerated the timeline.

As a result of the pandemic, a growing number of small business owners are adopting more virtual resources to boost their company’s online presence. And with good reason. That’s where customers are now and will be going forward.

E-retail sales surged to $3.5 trillion in 2019 after more than 1.9 billion consumers purchased a product or service online last year. By 2023, projections show e-retail purchases will make up 22 percent of all retail sales worldwide, up from 14 percent in 2019. Those same reports show that, in 20 years, 95 percent of all purchases will occur online.

Consumer behavior has followed a similar pace. This year alone, BBB.org experienced a 383-percent increase in searches for online retailers. Shoppers aren’t just purchasing more products online right now; they’re also doing their homework.

For small businesses, that should be welcome news. When consumers research their options before making a purchase, it’s an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself from the competition. That’s assuming your business’s online reputation, customer communication channels and trust levels are where you want them to be.

So, what if that’s not the case for your business? Making improvements in those areas is not as lofty a task as it may seem. Consumers are already telling us what they like and dislike about their online shopping experience. For business owners who want to enhance their virtual offerings, it’s just a matter of listening.

BBB recently performed an analysis of more than 76,000 customer reviews to identify experiences that resonated with shoppers. These are some takeaways we found that could benefit small businesses right now:

  •  Money matters. Budget-conscious consumers love online deals. Customers mentioned “money” in 11 percent of positive online retailer reviews compared to 7 percent from other industries. Other buzzwords include “excellent prices,” “amazing deals,” and “true to their word.”
  • Reliability rules. Speed and timeliness ranked high in praises from online consumers. Customers raved about quick deliveries and fast shipping – a steep contrast from negative reviews where customers rank slow delivery as their top pain point.
  • Be sociable. While it’s nearly impossible to match in-person purchase friendliness, shoppers still value friendly customer service, even if it’s virtual. With more consumers shopping from their home and mobile devices, a positive customer experience and support can make a difference at the point of sale.
  • Contact is critical. Transparency is the cornerstone of the BBB Standards for Trust. Online businesses that are open and honest with customers will often receive kudos from customers even when there is a delay or a problem.

The marketplace’s future is already taking shape online. If your business hasn’t made its virtual presence an organizational priority, the time to do that is already here.

Learn more about ways your business can bolster its online presence by visiting trust-bbb.org.


Sheron Patrick is the Communications Manager for the Better Business Bureau of Northwest + Pacific serving Alaska. He lives in in Anchorage, where he and his team write articles and alerts on tips to help keep Alaskan consumers safe.