This “Outside Consultant” column by Opus College of Business adjunct faculty member Kim Sovell ran in the Star Tribune on Dec. 14, 2020.

Understanding your consumers is really the first step in a holistic approach to e-commerce. Having an elevated level of understanding is very important in order to bond with customers and then build a following of individuals that trust you and trust your business. Although it’s important to know if your target audience is on Instagram or another social media platform, that information alone is not going to be enough. You need to understand the reason that consumer is on Instagram and what their expectations are so you can meet them.

What we have seen in the last few months reflects the prediction that online sales are going to outpace in-store purchases sales for the first time in history. The pandemic has forced 10 years of changes in the way we shop into a few months. Consumers are nesting. We were nesting pre-pandemic, but now we are nesting even more. We are finding ways to improve our living spaces with DIY projects. We are cooking more. Many are learning to cook. We are shopping at online rates that were unimaginable a few months ago. Many of these new habits are going to stick because we have learned how easy and convenient it is to meet our needs quickly and safely. That convenience and ability to save time is here to stay.

My best piece of advice for e-commerce brands launching in this environment is to know your consumers at a granular level. Eighty percent of millennials use social media multiple times a day. If your target audience is millennials, knowing these consumers are on social media will help you figure out what they value. Millennials like to build community and that is even more important in a pandemic. Influencers work well with millennials. Influencers work well with baby boomers too. Baby boomers are also on the internet. They use it differently than other cohorts, but 86% of baby boomers use it every day. The key takeaway is to know your consumer at a granular level so that you can use that knowledge to make your business a success.

Kim Sovell is on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

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