By Alison Carrico, AVB Marketing

The world is a much different one than what we are used to, but that doesn’t mean that everything has to come to a grinding halt. Creative solutions are everywhere, and we know it takes a village to keep our nation’s small business alive and thriving.

The AVB Marketing team has put together a list of solutions for you to effectively manage your businesses, even with a little social distance between you and your customers.

Add live chat to your website. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: your website is an extension of your showroom. It’s not just a cost of doing business. Your customers show up online expecting the same experience as if they’ve just walked in your front doors, and a part of that is having a real person there to help.

Over the past several weeks, consumers across the world have been forced to shop online versus in-store in light of the new social distancing practices. Underscoring the point, chat engagement is up 60 times on our member websites from where it was a few weeks ago.

Right now, customers don’t know if you are in your store to answer your phone and they don’t have time to email you. But if there is a chat window on your website, they know you’re available to address their needs.

Chat is easy to set up on your website, all it takes is pasting a snippet of code. Once you’re up and running you can see insights in an easy-to-navigate dashboard, letting you know how often customers are chatting and what time of day they are most likely to be online, so you can be too.

Set up a payment gateway. If you aren’t already taking payment information online, what are you waiting for? That ship sailed a long time ago, and your customers are shopping somewhere else where they can actually pay for their order.

The ability to pay for a product is a necessary part of the customer journey, especially now. We’ve seen a 300 percent increase in online order counts across our network over the last few weeks. Customers don’t want to feel like they have to take care of the payment later, that’s just a clunky purchase experience. Make it seamless, and let the consumer finish the process in one fell swoop.

Stay on top of online trends. Sure, we know that consumers have been pushed exclusively online right now, but do you know what they are focused on searching for and buying? The biggest mistake you can make is to cast too wide a net with the product you’re putting in front of your customer at a time like this.

Our team has done the research, and we know that not only has traffic increased by 30 percent in a recent three-day period, but that those consumers are looking for the same things: refrigeration and laundry products. As more and more people are being ordered to stay home, they need reliable appliances. We see this trend shifting to cooking appliances in the coming week as folks settle in and rely more on at-home meals.

But it takes more than just knowing what the trends are; you need to act on them. Set up a sort weight in your product catalog to display in-stock and best-selling items first. Flag your products to let your customers know what’s in-stock and what’s sold out in the moment, to make their shopping experience faster and easier. Enable product add-ons to ensure your customer has the necessary items for their purchase the first time.

We realize times are changing fast, but we also know that you have the know-how to evolve and adapt to the online world faster than you think. Think of it less as a time of uncertainty and more of the universe giving you a little nudge in the direction you were headed anyway, to the Internet.

Your store is so much more than four walls, product and some amazing salespeople; it’s an experience for the consumer, and that is equal parts website and brick-and-mortar.

Alison Carrico is Brand Manager at AVB Marketing, a unit of YourSourceNews publisher AVB Inc.