How do you convert from a brick-and-mortar store to the internet? Perhaps you want to add an online presence to what you already do. Maybe you need to reduce overhead and eventually shut down your physical store. Whatever your goal, you can take some specific steps to start an e-commerce store today.
Visual Objects polled 500 American small-business owners. It discovered that 29% plan to start a website this year, showing there are still many brick-and-mortar companies without an online presence. They miss out on reaching new clients because they can’t connect digitally. A large percentage of people start their searches for local companies online, and without a website, you lose a lot of control over how they see your brand on the internet. You’re left to the mercy of reviewers and mentions here and there.
Going online is a bit scary. It adds costs to what you’re already doing, and the competition is fierce. Not only are you competing with local businesses, but with ones around the globe that might have lower prices or better delivery systems in place. Still, you can expand what you’re doing successfully by offering your products through a website. Here are some steps to take to get you from no presence to a robust one.
1. Get on Google
There are many free marketing tools you can use before you create your website, such as Google My Business. Make sure your brand has a presence on repositories making sense for your industry. If you own a restaurant, claim your Yelp presence. Check into the Better Business Bureau and sites such as Angie’s List if you provide home repair services.
2. Choose Online-Friendly Products
Think about the items you sell that might do well online. You don’t have to offer the same things you do in your stores. It’s fine to have some things exclusively for your online customers and other products just for in-store specials. Take stock of your inventory, figure out what your online competitors are doing and serve up your choices.
3. Perfect Your Customer Experience
Before you attempt competition with online stores, think through your customer service policies. People expect stellar customer experience (CX). How can you deliver the same level of personalization and service you do in-person? Train your sales agents to respond the same way online as they would face-to-face. Figure out your return policies and how you can make exchanges easy, such as allowing people to return via mail or at various locations.
4. Go With a Minimalist Design
You don’t have to offer everything on your website. Keep things simple at first. Create a home page, contact page, list of locations and a shopping area. Later, you can add a blog, more detailed information and an expanded product line. Right now, you’re trying to keep costs low while you transition to an online store. The more pages and complexity, the more expensive your website is to build. Start small with a plan for how you’ll expand later.
5. Know Where Your Target Audience Hangs Out
Think about who your brick-and-mortar customers are. Pull data from your files and make a list of some of their traits. Do they fall within a specific age range? Perhaps most of your customers are blue-collar workers. Once you have a list of characteristics, create one or more buyer personas representing your average shopper. You’ll have a blueprint showing who buys your products.
Consider where your buyer personas might hang out online. If you sell mostly to married females between 26 and 50, Pinterest could be a good choice for driving traffic to your new website. Facebook also allows you to narrowly target your audience, so you can input parameters into your advertising and reach the people you most want to attract.
6. Figure Out Logistics
You’re competing with companies such as Amazon and Walmart, who’ve perfected order fulfillment. Plan completing orders the minute they come in and get them shipped as quickly as possible.
You should also think about how you’d like to package your products. Add personalization by sending a note or offering a discount on the products they purchase most often. Put your logo on the outside of the box, so others see your branding and consider ordering from you. You should also decide how to best handle returns. Do you pay postage, or do they?
7. Choose the Right POS
Does your current point-of-sale system offer an online option? If not, upgrade to one that does so you can use the same POS in-store and online. You should also add options such as PayPal or Stripe for online users. Many do not want to share their credit card information online, even with an established brand. Offer users options, so they feel comfortable entrusting you with their hard-earned dollars.
Test Your Methods
Selling online can be vastly different than doing so in real life. As you add various features to your website, conduct A/B testing. See which features, products and styles your customers respond to. When you run a marketing campaign for your e-commerce store, track the results, make tweaks and keep trying new things until you find the perfect combination.
Adding an online store is quite rewarding and increases your revenue. You just have to become familiar with the differences in digital sales. Once you do, you can realize the full potential of the internet.
Lexie is a digital nomad and graphic designer. If she’s not traveling to various parts of the country, you can find her at the local flea markets or hiking with her goldendoodle. Connect with her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.