If you operate a physical shopfront, you’ve probably considered whether it makes sense to bring your business online – either to supplement your physical operations, or to replace them entirely.
There are some great reasons to consider moving to an e-commerce model. After all, the pandemic rapidly accelerated the adoption of online shopping, and today, 60% of customers visit brick-and-mortar locations less frequently and 43% of shoppers buy online more often than they did prior to the pandemic.
Selling online also helps you reach a much larger audience. Rather than selling only to customers in your immediate radius, you’ll be able to reach customers nationwide, or even internationally. That means you can grow rapidly without needing to budget for additional retail space, or factoring in many of the other operational expenses that go along with running a brick and mortar business. By using a ready-to-go ecommerce platform like Shopify, you can easily expand your online shopfront to encompass multiple stores and brands.
At the same time, selling online means that you’re also competing not just with the other stores in your customers’ immediate vicinity – you’re competing with every other online shop in your space on the internet.
So, if you’re ready to expand your physical business online, or make the shift completely, what should you do to make sure that you’re setting your brand up for success?
Use an all-in-one ecommerce platform
You could hire your own web development team and set up an online payment gateway independently – but that’s a huge expense and could take months to pull off. Not to mention, if you don’t keep the most current cybersecurity initiatives in mind, you could be leaving your customers vulnerable to possible data breaches and other security gaps.
Instead, you can quickly get your shopfront online by choosing an all-in-one software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based ecommerce solution like Shopify. Using a SaaS ecommerce platform enables you to set your store up quickly and easily, choosing a design template for your shopfront and the rest of your website, and using an ecommerce backend system that has a payment gateway that encrypts your customers’ private data and integrates with all the most common payment providers.
Choose the right products
If you’re making the move from a physical store to an online shopfront, you might decide to sell all your inventory online – or you might decide it makes sense only to sell particular items through digital channels.
When evaluating, think about how expensive or difficult it is to package and ship the items, and, in the event of a return, how easily the items might be resold.
For example, if you run a home goods store, you might realize that it’s easy to sell your yarn and knitting supplies through online channels. However, if you have large furniture items like chairs and sofas, these items may be more difficult for a customer to assess online, and can be much more difficult and expensive to send back in the event that they decide they don’t want to keep it.
When considering what inventory to transition from your physical store to virtual, think about which items are popular, sturdy, and easy to ship, and start there. Make sure that you take good photographs of the items that allow customers to zoom in, and provide detailed notes about materials and care.
As you get up and running, you’ll likely want to add more inventory to your online store. You can continue pulling from your physical store inventory, but you also have the option of adding similar products that you’ve sourced elsewhere, from third-party suppliers or merchants. When choosing items to add to the store, ensure that you’ve had the chance to test them out first to ensure their quality before selling them to your own customers.
Market your online store
Once you’ve got a shopfront set up, it’s time to bring in the customers. If your physical store is already popular, you may be able to rely on your name brand to help you build trust and attract customers online, largely pulling from your existing customer base. But it’s important to take steps to grow it from there.
In order to build your brand online, it’s important to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy that might include online advertising, social media, SEO, content marketing, email marketing, and potentially other marketing channels, focused on helping customers get familiar with your brand and gain interest in your products. Ideally, you’ll be able to build a strategy that continually retargets your customers as they get more comfortable with your brand: They might see an ad, and click on your website, but not be ready to make a purchase. You’ll then be able to continually show them ads that are relevant to the product they clicked on, and promotional offers that encourage them to come back and sign up for your newsletter and ultimately make a purchase.
By combining online advertising with social media and content marketing, you’ll be able to generate a sustainable mix of paid and organic traffic to help you grow your audience quickly and at an affordable rate. You’ll be able to leverage your existing brand reputation to incentivize your existing customers to recommend your products to their friends and family, so that you can grow a referral audience as well.
Find the right fulfillment strategy
If you’re used to running a physical store, all of your inventory is either sitting on your shelves or in your stockroom. As you move to an online model, you can continue to sell from your supply area if you have the space for it – or, you might consider using a 3PL to fulfill your orders, which can help you scale more quickly and deliver fast shipping regardless of where your customers are based.
By using a third-party fulfillment partner, you’ll be able to strategically ship your inventory to a variety of warehouses around the country. That means your fulfillment provider will then be able to quickly respond to incoming orders and provide real-time inventory and status updates, and use their scale to help you get the best shipping rates and timing. With a fulfillment partner, you won’t need to hire a team to worry about packing and shipping your products – you’ll simply send off your inventory in bulk and replace it when necessary.
With a good 3PL, you’ll be able to scale your operations quickly and keep customers happy with quick, transparent order fulfillment.
Prioritize great customer service
When customers are shopping online instead of at a physical store, they won’t have an attendant at their beck and call to answer questions.
So it’s important to give them the best possible customer experience possible, using the technology you have available to help you scale and streamline your customer support.
You can use chatbots to automatically answer some of the most common questions your customers might have, and instantly route them to the right department for additional questions and follow-ups.
For customer support inquiries that require a detailed response, you can use live chat agents when possible, as well as online forms that provide a clear turnaround time for when customers can expect an answer or resolution.
With ecommerce, it’s important to customers that they’re kept up to date at every stage of the transaction. By providing automated workflows that help them stay on top of their order status in real time, paired with high-level support when needed, you can ensure that they stay satisfied throughout the sales process.
Simplify product returns
Don’t forget about returns. When moving to an online model, you’re likely to see a lot more refund requests than ever before: In ecommerce, as much as 40% of all product sales can result in a return.
Rather than frustrating your customers and making it difficult for them to make their returns, consider automating and simplifying the returns process with a best-in-class technology solution like Loop.
With Loop, customers can use a self-service platform to request a return or product exchange. They can answer questions in a drop-down menu to provide context on why they’re requesting a return, and the solution will provide suggested product exchanges based on their feedback. You can even offer the customer bonus credit to use towards an exchange, rather than requesting a refund. By doing this, you’ll be able to maintain customer relationships that might otherwise end, helping you drive higher lifetime revenue and build better customer relationships.
Want to take Loop for a spin? Sign up for a demo.