The world has been turned upside down, to say the least for the conservation community in 2020.  For many all traditional practices have been broken down to the basic needs of survival.   The in-person, face-to-face experience that brought people around the globe to wildlife safaris and to zoos and aquariums has been replaced by a distanced existence. Many are feeling cut-off from their supporters, members, and the public who play a vital role in continuously supporting a thriving natural world.

During this time, many institutions and a few NGO’s around the world reached out via social and traditional media as well as their own creative live-feed websites to offer engagement, support, and financial aid requests. Many clever organizations developed programs that increased followers by helping parents and students keep entertained and educated.    They all told powerful stories to their faithful followers of hope while also sharing in the incredible challenges they were facing.

From my review over the past few months, it feels as if this is helping, but on a varied scale.   Those who have seen success speak to both the power of compassionate and caring people and to the incredible reach that the world-wide-web illustrates.   In-facility conservation commerce is a very important opportunity that cross-pollinates NGO’s with zoos and aquariums.   But with institutions gradually reopening from the pandemic and with limited attendance, the avenues to reach the public are dramatically limited for now.

E-commerce is not a new answer, but one that previously has met an average financial return based on a grandiose vision of success that may have only been met half-way by an organization’s marketing efforts.   Many do not have e-commerce or minimize the exposure of the shop.   Reasons vary but include limited staff to manage the site, inventory, shipping, customer service, finances and many others.    In reviewing hundreds of websites from NGO’s, zoos, aquariums, and other organizations, it is a very diverse catalog of examples from those who partner with Shopify, Teespring, CafePress and Teemill to those who self-operate their sites.

Though institutions have donations on their overall site, these e-commerce vendors’ options do not offer a donation or “round-up” function that can help immediately build upon a transaction.  This is where the guest makes a purchase and is then asked if they would like to “round-up” to the next dollar amount or to a choice of $5, $10, $15, or other.    In our operations we have seen donations upwards in the hundreds of dollars as the commitment to the organization appears to be elevated when making a purchase.

Those who have been successful have made a commitment to most if not all noted above and surely during this time are seeing purchases and subsequent donations increase.   Conservation e-commerce should be explored more by organizations who are looking for that added level of connecting with their supporters, whether they be a first-time visitor enamored with that animal or community story, or a long-time donor and member.   The options are out there and vary with capabilities and involvement from the organization and institution.

My organization, the SSA Group offers an example of partnering with an e-commerce operator who has helped us grow our e-commerce website business from two locations across the United States to over 22 sites.   Many of these have been successfully operated with appropriate staffing levels and have tackled the operational challenges well over time.   The results have varied more based on the social and traditional media marketing with the more engaged locations seeing success in sales and donations while others are still building programs.

These sites also offer an opportunity to evolve and grow in reaching a growing consumer base – and in our continued thought process for success – a chance to connect the conservation e-commerce story.    If a guest visits their favorite animal or exhibit the opportunity to link to the same animal conservation or souvenir item should be capitalized upon.   The same can be said from the e-commerce page with the product existing with an internal link to that animal or exhibit.   The connection of these dots is critical to engaging a guest who does not have a sales associate, zoologist, aquarist or volunteer in front of them to tell them about the latest baby, community outreach program,  or how a feeding is occurring in 15 minutes.

Organizations who need to keep animals fed, the lights on, or anti-poaching units supported financially for gas, food, and safety all require support.   And though parts of the world are re-opening, the reality of what impact has occurred may be too soon to tell.   Financial means could continue to be a struggle for many now and for years to come.   The conservation e-commerce model may have a challenged past, but certainly, during this time where all ideas need to be explored, this option deserves a chance to be successfully implemented.

By Andrew Fischer, Vice President of Sustainability & Conservation – SSA Group

For more information on developing your Conservation e-commerce model, please reach out to andrewfischer@thessagroup.com