How the Pandemic Transformed Online Business

It’s no secret that the pandemic has impacted nearly every industry, from e-commerce to SaaS.

The world has gone digital, the desires of the workforce are changing, and people are seeking a better work-life balance. Not to mention, online activity has drastically increased, and online businesses have experienced a major transformation. 

And so, online businesses need to quickly adapt to succeed during these changing times. 

Let’s look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed online business over the last couple of years. 

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

Online business growth by the numbers 

With many people working remotely and spending more time at home, it’s no surprise that online activity has grown immensely over the last couple of years. And, naturally, online business has shared in that growth.  

According to BigCommerce, around 20-30% of business moved online during the pandemic’s peak. On top of that, a survey by GoDaddy found that 2.8 million more microbusinesses were created in 2020 than in 2019. 

When many of us are spending a majority of our time online, it only makes sense that online businesses have grown tremendously. 

Let’s dive into how exactly the pandemic has impacted online business. 

How the pandemic has transformed online business

The past couple of years have come with a lot of change. From pivoting online to always being ready for the unexpected, online businesses had to roll with the punches. 

Flexibility has been a key characteristic of successful online businesses as they’ve navigated the changes brought on by the pandemic. 

Here are a few ways the pandemic has transformed online businesses as we knew them: 

  • Digital-first experiences
  • Shift to entrepreneurship 
  • Better work-life balance 

Below, we’ll go over each of these in-depth and discuss how online businesses can adapt to these transformations. 

Digital-first experiences 

One of the biggest changes the pandemic has created is the shift to digital. While we were already headed in that direction, the pandemic accelerated the move online and the need to prioritize digital experiences. 

With nearly everything taking place online, from work to school, consumers are taking their shopping online, too. 

E-commerce brands have seen, arguably, their most significant growth over the last two years. In 2020, online retail sales increased 32.4% year over year and brought in an additional $105 billion in online revenue in the United States. According to Shopify, around 19.5% of sales were made from online purchases, a 45.8% increase in e-commerce market share over two years.

Now that consumers can discover, research, and shop with just a few clicks, online businesses need to meet customers where they are and bring the shopping experience to their screens. 

E-commerce brands can personalize the shopping experience by using personalization in marketing to help people make purchasing decisions. How, exactly? Online brands can emulate an in-person shopping experience by using a product recommendation quiz to tailor products to their customers’ preferences and needs. 

Skincare brand Soko Glam is a great example of how e-commerce brands can use a quiz not only to gather insight about their customers but also to help personalize their shopping experience and increase the chance that they’ll make a purchase.

In addition to personalized marketing, e-commerce brands—and SaaS brands—can enhance the digital experience by integrating the following into their strategies:

  • Mobile optimization 
  • Omnichannel marketing 
  • Data capturing 

Let’s go over each of these strategies a little more in-depth. 

Mobile optimization

With the shift to being online more, mobile activity has naturally increased. In 2021, over half of all web traffic came from mobile

So what does this mean for e-commerce brands? 

All online businesses—especially e-commerce brands—must have websites that are not just “mobile-friendly” but also optimized with mobile-first in mind. 

When more than 50% of web traffic is coming from mobile, it’s safe to say that more than half of your customers will be shopping from their phones. And there’s nothing that will make them abandon their cart faster than a website that isn’t seamless to use on mobile. 

Prioritize making your website easy for customers to navigate and shop from on their phones to increase your chances of converting window browsers to loyal shoppers. 

Omnichannel marketing 

SaaS and e-commerce brands must now focus on omnichannel marketing. With nearly everything taking place online due to the pandemic, omnichannel marketing allows brands to use multiple touchpoints to reach their customers. 

While brands shouldn’t necessarily be *everywhere* at once, it’s a good idea to focus on a few solid channels. This could be your website, email list, social media, or earned media, to name a few. 

These days, your customer can be anywhere online. It’s important to figure out exactly where your audience hangs out, so you can meet them where they are at every point in their journey. This helps create a complete digital experience. 

Data capturing 

With Google phasing out third-party cookies and completely removing them by 2023, third-party data isn’t as reliable as it once was. 

Without third-party data, e-commerce and SaaS brands need a different way to capture customer data in order to personalize their marketing and tailor product recommendations. This is where zero-party data comes in. 

Zero-party data means you can gather information directly from the source, AKA your audience. 

Sounds great, right? So, what’s the catch? 

There is no catch! You can easily collect zero-party data through email opt-in forms and interactive content such as quizzes

That’s right—say goodbye to cookies and hello to quizzes!

When you use a quiz as your lead magnet, it not only gives people a fun way to engage with your brand, but it also gives them an incentive for signing up to your email list. 

And depending on what type of quiz you create for your brand, you’re essentially gathering information about your target audience that you wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. 

It’s a win-win for every party involved. 

Shift to entrepreneurship 

Throughout the pandemic—beginning with the widespread layoffs in 2020 and continuing with the Great Resignation of 2021—the workforce has experienced a dramatic shift.

And this shift has led to many people taking their skills, interests, and experiences into their own hands and pursuing entrepreneurship. 

According to Upwork, two million more people began freelancing in 2021. Upwork’s research also found that freelancers and self-employed people now make up more than one-third of the entire workforce. 

The numbers don’t lie. The pandemic has clearly changed the desires of the workforce and opened up new opportunities for people to create careers for themselves, generating income online.

Whether by becoming a solo service provider, a content creator on YouTube or TikTok, or building a community through a weekly newsletter, anyone can pursue their entrepreneurial passions by starting an online business. 

Here are a few entrepreneurial paths to choose from if you want to start a solo online business:

  • Coach (business, health, mindset, etc.) 
  • Service provider 
  • Freelancer 
  • Creator (YouTube, podcast, newsletter, etc.)

If you’re looking for some entrepreneurial inspiration from a real-life creator, one example of an online business owner who saw creative success during the pandemic is podcaster Maria Failla of Bloom & Grow Radio

While quarantining in 2020, Maria decided to create a brand personality quiz around “plant personalities” to grow her email list. The quiz helped double her email subscribers and has become an engaging tool to generate leads and bring more people into her online community. 

What this shift means for SaaS brands

While this shift to entrepreneurship is good news for anyone who wants to start an online business, it’s also an opportunity for SaaS companies to reevaluate their audience. 

Historically, customers may have been teams, agencies, or even enterprises. 

But with more people turning to freelancing and self-employment, you may start to see a shift in your customer base. 

Rather than limit your pricing structures to teams and enterprises, consider adding a level for freelancers or business owners. Or, if you already have a pricing level for individuals, you could gear the messaging toward solo entrepreneurs. 

QuickBooks is an excellent example of a SaaS brand that serves different audiences, catering to their unique needs. 

You may be thinking, But how will I know if people coming to my site are freelancers or entrepreneurs? 

The answer? By creating an interactive quiz to engage with website visitors. 

There are a number of quizzes you can use to figure out exactly who your customer is. The main option would be a personality quiz or assessment. 

By using a brand personality quiz, you can get to know your audience and better tailor your SaaS offerings and content to those customers. 

The self-employed career path isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. For B2B SaaS brands, now is the time to get ahead of the growing trend and find new ways to attract leads from this accelerating audience. 

The desire for better work-life balance 

Another impact the pandemic has had on online businesses is people’s increased desire for a better work-life balance. The pandemic has forced many to change their perspectives on life, seek healthier lifestyles, and make work less of a priority. 

More and more people are looking for ways to improve their lives and create a positive impact, from forming healthier habits to learning how to grow their businesses. There has also been an increased interest in financial education. According to the Pinterest Predicts 2022 Report, terms around financial education increased 155% over the last two years.

All that to say, the desire for a more balanced lifestyle has created an opportunity for coaches to help people navigate these new desires. 

While professional coaching was already on the rise before the pandemic—the number of coaches increased by 33% between 2015 and 2019—the industry continued to grow despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

To harness this growth and make sure you are attracting the right clients, coaches need a robust lead generation process. 

Lead generation works best when you truly understand your customer personas. This entails getting to know exactly what your potential clients are looking for, whether that’s guidance, an answer to a problem, or personalized help. 

Online coaches can help people narrow down what they’re looking for by creating a personality quiz. Quizzes are not only a strong way to get to know your audience, but they’re also tools to generate leads, grow email lists, and potentially bring people through a sales funnel journey. 

Key takeaways for online businesses

The last couple of years have brought major change to the online business world. But fortunately, most of this change is positive and signals even more growth for businesses that operate online, including e-commerce brands, SaaS companies, and online entrepreneurs like coaches. 

To recap, here are the biggest impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on online business: 

  • Digital-first experiences are a top priority 
  • A major shift to entrepreneurship 
  • Stronger desire for better work-life balance 

To succeed during these changing times, online brands must prioritize digital experiences and capabilities, exercise flexibility and empathy, and meet their audiences where they are. If you can strengthen your brand’s online strategies now, you’ll be primed for the future, which will continue being digital-first. 

Regardless of your goals for your online business, it’s always a good idea to capture audience insights and convert website traffic with an interactive online quiz. 

Use a quiz builder like Interact to create a lead generation tool that matches your business goals. 

We still don’t know a lot about what’s to come, but the future’s looking bright for online businesses. 

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