The number of brick-and-mortar stores venturing into the online market has increased in recent years, with many of these companies experiencing increased sales and substantial business growth. The fact is, there are huge benefits to selling online, and without an online presence you are missing out on a significant number of potential customers.
There is no denying that setting up shop online can be a daunting process, but fortunately it needn’t be as challenging as you might think. Yes, online success won’t happen overnight, but with an effective strategy you quite literally open your business up for new sales opportunities, by reaching a far wider audience.
By following these 4 steps, you can get your online store up and running, and start maximising the growth of your business, both online and in-store.
1. Select your channel or platform
Making the decision to sell online might be a big step in itself, but as soon as you decide it's the right move for your business, you will need to determine which channel or platform you are going to sell on. Arguably, this will come down to one of two options; selling through an online marketplace, or setting up your own eCommerce site.
As with anything, you should always commit to researching your options before making a decision, and when it comes to deciding which channel or platform is best for you, start by thinking about your expectations for selling online, and the commitments each option entails – Do you have the time to build and maintain an eCommerce site? Or would it make more sense to start with an established marketplace? You should also think about your customers, are they more likely to be shopping on a marketplace than searching for an eCommerce site? Why not ask your in-store customers to generate insight into their online buying behaviours.
Realistically, there are benefits to each option which is why many sellers invest in both, however assuming that you wish to focus initially on one, here is some information on each option to give you an idea of what you can expect from each, as well the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Setting up an eCommerce site
By setting up an eCommerce platform, you will be able to manage your website, showcase your products and accept payments from your customers. While there are hundreds of solutions available to you, typically you will be looking at either an ‘out of the box website builder’ such as Shopify, BigCommerce or Volusion, which will provide you with the tools for designing and managing your website (including hosting and domain names), or an ‘open-source self-hosted website’, such as Magento or WooCommerce, which gives you more control and better ability to scale. If you decide to go with the latter, however, you will need to have a knowledge of working with Wordpress.
Regardless of which platform you chose, here are the advantages and disadvantages of setting up an eCommerce site:
1. Fully customisable store – Many solutions will provide you with a variety of design tools such as customisable themes or CSS editors, which will allow you to replicate the look and feel of your store.
2. Access to customer information – Once a customer makes a purchase on your site, or subscribes to a newsletter, you will have access to their information which you can use to keep in touch with them and nurture them for repeat custom.
1. Running an eCommerce site requires time – If you are selling on an eCommerce site, you are responsible for the entire customer experience. What this means is you’re in charge of everything from site design and maintenance, right through to customer acquisition, marketing, shipping/fulfilment, payments and customer service etc.
2. No ready-made customer base – For less established brands, raising awareness of your brand and driving traffic to your site can be a challenge. Unfortunately, this means that advertising and marketing costs can stack up.
Selling on an online marketplace
Whether you chose to sell on Amazon and/or eBay, or go for a more niche choice of marketplace such as Etsy, Rakuten or Game, these channels can be a great way to get started online and reach new audiences.
1. Minimal effort required for set up and maintenance – The beauty of selling on a marketplace is the ease of set-up, not to mention the fact that you don’t need to stress about the layout or any features or widgets.
2. Access to an extensive customer base – Marketplaces are great for the simple reason that they come with a ready-made and ready-to-buy, customer base. By following marketplace best practices such as the use of highly optimised listings for increased visibility, you can drive traffic to your listing and ultimately increase conversions.
1. Little control over your store – While some marketplaces give you the option to create your own store, you will typically have very little control over the branding and design, making it difficult to show off your brand’s personality.
2. You must comply with rules and regulations – While there are huge benefits to selling on a marketplace, you’ve got to respect that ultimately it is their site and their rules. This means you won’t have the same freedom as you will have selling on your own site, and you will have to follow regulations on what exactly you can sell on these sites.
3. Marketplace fees - Despite their many benefits, selling on a marketplace isn't always cheap. For this reason, it's important that you acknowledge both your margins and the marketplace's fee structure, as this will determine whether or not it is a good fit for your business.
2. Ensure the design of your site is consistent with your branding
If you are setting up shop with an eCommerce site then you should keep it consistent with the branding you use for your brick-and-mortar store. There are typically two options for designing your online webstore, either choose an eCommerce platform that includes easily customisable templates, or invest in a custom design by hiring a web designer.
It’s important to remember that when designing your website you should find the right balance between reflecting your brand’s personality and complying with web design best practices which include:
- The use of simple navigation on your site
- Avoiding ‘cluttering’ your homepage to enhance the customer experience
- Ensuring your text is displayed in a font and size that is easy to read
- Where possible, avoid using stock images
- Avoiding Flash intros as this can slow down load-time and look outdated
If you have chosen to go down the route of selling on a marketplace, you will find that many platforms give you some freedom for customising your seller’s profile and listings. How flexible these customisation options are will vary across marketplaces, with sites like Amazon allowing sellers to showcase their brand and merchandise through Amazon Pages, and eBay providing sellers with advance marketing tools and customisation features by setting up an eBay store.
3. Create and optimise your product pages
Product pages are often neglected by retailers starting out online, with many focusing solely on their homepage. The reality, however, is that when it comes to eCommerce sites, these product pages play an integral role in generating sales, but only if they are attractive, compelling and optimised.
Think about the customers that come into your store. They are making the decision to purchase based on the product(s) you are selling, what they’re not doing is walking into your store and buying the first thing they see just because they love your brand and want to walk out with one of your carrier bags. Ecommerce sites work the same way, except you have to go one step further by accurately describing and showcasing your products in a way that compels them to buy the item, while also going above and beyond to reduce any risks associated with purchasing that product. The bottom line is that your customers won’t have the luxury of handling the product themselves prior to purchase, as they would in your store, therefore it is up to you to leverage your product pages to influence their decision.
The first thing to think about is showcasing your products through high-quality photos. Always try and provide various angles of each item, enabling your customers to see exactly what it looks like.
If you are selling fashion merchandise, you might benefit from showing the items on a model as well, as this can demonstrate what the item will look like on. Where possible, consider going one step further as well and sharing user-generated content of existing customers wearing these items as this will help reduce the risk of buying.
When it comes to your titles, certain marketplaces will have limits (for example eBay titles are 80 characters and Amazon titles are 200 characters), but with eCommerce sites a general rule of thumb is to keep them below 55 characters. You should also try and include all relevant information, including brand, model and product type.
While there is no right or wrong way of writing your product descriptions, there are a number of best practices for increasing conversions. Firstly, we would recommend using bullet points to list your product’s attributes, and cover the details that aren’t evident in the images.
In addition, you should always try and keep your descriptions accurate and detailed, and avoid misleading customers as all this will do is damage your reputation and encourage product returns. In addition, include keywords that your customers will be searching for, as this is important for your ‘visibility’ regardless of whether you’re selling on a marketplace or through your own eCommerce store.
Reviews can play an integral role in providing social proof, while eliminating any risks that a potential customer might have about your product. In fact, it is believed that around 94% of shoppers look at reviews while researching a product, with 86% stating that reviews are an essential part of their decision making process.
4. Overcome common challenges with multi-channel selling
For many retailers, managing inventory in-store is fairly straight-forward, but managing inventory both in-store and online is often far more complicated. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be. Let’s be honest, if you are solely using a spreadsheet and manually updating it every time you make a sale, you’re bound to make mistakes which will often result in overselling, but with the use of a multi-channel inventory management solution, enabling you to synchronise and track you inventory levels both online and in-store, you can completely eliminate this problem, making your whole business processes far more effective.