The introduction of social distancing laws and regulations to curb the spread of COVID-19 has had an interesting impact on how we move. According to Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Report, while most locations in Australian saw a decrease in movement, retail locations experienced the sharpest decline following the initial wave of restrictions.

As the government essentially forced non-essential businesses to close, shopping centres became ghost towns resulting in many brick-and-mortar stores across Australia to shut down and enter hibernation. With restrictions on movement and all Australians advised to stay at home, consumer sought out other ways to fulfil their shopping desires.

This caused a surge in online shopping. Research company WARC reports that the global outbreak of COVID-19 saw a shift to more frequent online shopping habits, with some countries such as Vietnam increasing by 57%. This also brought a wave of inexperienced consumers shopping out of necessity and experiencing the benefits of online shopping for the very first time. However, this new online shopper is one that is unaware of the dangers of online shopping and more likely to fall for simple attacks, like phishing attacks that send a malicious link disguised as an ‘order update’ to a victim.

At the same time, many retailers who were forced to close physical stores fast-tracked their digital transformation and launched their own e-commerce stores or increased product availability on their already existing platform. This rush to become digitally capable has an advantage in the short-term as retailers were able to fulfil orders without the need for a physical location.

However, fast-tracking can have risks in the long term, especially to those who are new to e-commerce. Considerations, such as how to manage data or protect the platform from cyber-attacks, are often missed when rushing into launching a digital store. Therefore, it’s important that retailers keep the following points at the top of their mind.

Protecting the consumer

E-commerce has been around for some time now, so it’s likely that many of the retailers who turned to launching an online store during the pandemic are inexperienced in this space. Retailers new to e-commerce need to understand how to set the consumer up for success and protect their own online platform.

One simple way retailers can protect the consumer is formalise how the business officially communicates with a customer. It’s vital that all lines of communication, for example order updates, support or FAQs, are all established in the first instance. This means that consumers are less likely to fall for attacks which aim to disguise as an official representative from the online store.

Customer data protection is also a crucial consideration. Data breaches can have several effects on businesses and consumers, including financial loss, damage to the reputation and even a fine. Retailers can look to install and maintain a firewall, install an anti-virus program, and explore threat detection software. Both new and existing online retailers need to consider where consumer data is store and how it’s protected.

Securing payment card information

Payment card information security is another crucial consideration for opening an online store. Businesses need to ensure they are following industry standards for data security. As most retailers are concerned with getting themselves launched and stocking items, they tend to fast-track the online payment process, which could open them up to issues in the long run. Not having a proper payment gateway is a common mistake. Collecting payment details directly is also another way that open the business up to considerable risk to consumer data.

To ensure payments are secured, retailers can engage a Qualified Security Assessor to give an in-depth analysis for storing, transmitting, and processing payment card information. An assessment can identify gaps in payment card security and provide certification.

Retailers should look at leveraging a payments partner who knows what they’re doing, for example Tyro, or advisory companies like KJR, to help ensure protection of data. This means you can focus on running the business, instead of worrying about securing payment information.

Strong partnerships and networks

Ultimately, e-commerce isn’t new, so retailers who are new to this space should look at what others are doing and how they can pull success from other industries. For example, looking at how supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths established and grew their online offering.

Retailers should also consider working with partners and mentors who are experts in this space. Retailer networks, such as the National Online Retail Association (NORA) Network, offers the industry valuable advice for online retailing. It also gives members the opportunity to meet and interact with strong partners.

Once the restrictions are eased, consumers are expected to rush back to shopping centres and stores, but online shopping isn’t expected to drop. The consumers who had to shop online out of necessity are now more experienced and see the value online shopping can bring. Therefore, it’s important for retailers who did turn to a digital offering during the pandemic to not just focus on the success of their physical stores, but to maintain the momentum and continue the success of an e-commerce platform.

Adam Bird is general manager of NSW at KJR