You have a good product selling in your store. You have been wondering for a while now if there is an opportunity to sell online, but Covid-19 events has pushed this question into the spotlight. Here at ePresence, we have had several discussions in recent weeks with businesses who are looking to see if they can start to sell online quickly. The simple answer is yes – with the right will, some hard work and the right support.
BASIC REQUIREMENTS & CRITICAL STEPS
STEP 1 – Select and Implement the Most Appropriate Platform
There are really two general options to get up and running quickly
A ‘website builder’ such as Shopify or Wix
These are user friendly online DIY sites that allow you to setup and run your own website. It is a subscription-based service where you can use the pre-defined functionality to create and run your online shop.
A website platform such as WordPress with an eCommerce plugin
This is a more flexible platform, but as such does require a little more setup.
Our recommendation would be the latter; to build your online store on the WordPress Platform. This is fast, flexible and completely under your control.
While there is truth in the fact that website builders are fast to setup, the reality is that the actual website setup is seldom the source of delay when launching an online store. Using the website builders is also not always as easy as implied and it will take up a lot of your time, time you should be spending running your business.
If you are in this for the long haul, you also need to consider the flexibility that comes with a platform like WordPress. You can pretty much do whatever you want with it as your store grows and develops.
To get up and running quickly, you can use one of the many ecommerce templates or “themes”. If you can find one that you like and that reflects your business, you can use this to quickly get your site up and running. Once you have some time/experience of operating online, you can easily change to a custom design – but this does require more time to implement. By selecting a pre-existing theme, you can be up and running in hours.
Regardless of platform, there may be a slight challenge if you already have a website that does not have online shopping capabilities. Depending on the website technology, you could add the online shop functionality – but it may be faster and more efficient to create your online shop separately on subdomain (shop.mycompany.ie or mycompany.ie/shop depending on your setup).
STEP 2 – Select Products that you want to Sell Online
It may seem simple, but this is an area where many companies stall. In an ideal world, you would have all of the products that you sell off-line available in your on-line store. However, to do that you would need to pull together detailed information for every product and for every variation. I have outlined below the type of information that is needed. You also need to be ready to manage that information over time including regular update of product details; if and when they change as well as updating stock availability if needed.
For all products on a website, you need to include:
- Product Photos
It is very important that you have good quality product photos. As users do not get to touch the products or see them in real life, often the photo is the deciding factor.
- Product Descriptions
Clear, customer friendly descriptions are needed. This needs to have a sales focus, but also needs to clearly state any specifications that the customer would need to know as part of their purchase decision.
- Product Variations
If there are variants of the product such as colour, size or other specification.
- Pricing and Tax
This needs to be consistent with your offline pricing as it is very easy for shoppers to compare.
To get up and running quickly, you may want to be selective about which products you include at launch. While your ultimate goal should be to get a complete product offering online, we recommend that you build this over time. You can start with your top selling products, or the products that are most likely to sell online. There must be a sufficient selection to fulfil customers’ needs but once you have this, you can start your online shop and add to your online offering as demand and activity grow. You can always encourage customers to contact you if what they are looking for is not on the website.
As your online activities grow, you might want to consider integration with your point of sale or stock management systems. However, this can be a slower and more costly activity, so unless it is absolutely required, it is often not included in initial online efforts.
STEP 3 – Prepare Other Website Content
While product information is critical, it is also very important to make sure that you have other relevant information available and up to date on your website. Bearing in mind that the customer will not be standing in front of you; the website needs to answer whatever questions the customer might have and also give the customer confidence in your company and products.
Some of the key elements that you need to have are:
- About Us
Information about the company, who you are, what you do, etc.
- Unique Selling Propositions
Why buy from you, why are you different to other suppliers, what should the customer expect when dealing with your company.
- Contact Details
People are a lot more confident buying online if they know how you can be contacted in the event of problems.
- Delivery, Shipping and Returns
This information is critical to buyer confidence.
Users will have to submit their personal information when ordering. You need to be clear as to how that information is used.
In the absence of being able to physically stand in your store, being able to read about the experiences of other customers builds the trust/confidence needed to make a purchase decision.
With the number of online stores, it is not difficult to find examples of this content across the internet. However, there is no shortcut to having to ensure that the information that you put on the website is correct and relevant to your business.
To get this done quickly, there are copy writing services available if needed who can help and are not overly expensive.
STEP 4 – Agree Fulfilment and Delivery Arrangements
You need to think through the fulfilment and delivery arrangements for your products. As noted above, you do need to have a plan for maintaining stock availability on your website. You don’t want customers ordering products that you don’t have.
A few things that you need to consider:
- Are your products in stock, ready for immediate delivery?
- Are they made to order and if so, how much time does that take?
- What is the expected turnaround time from order submission to delivery; is this going to be acceptable to customers?
- Are your products suitable for drop shipping (going directly from your supplier to your customer)?
- Are there any special requirements or information that you need to have to fulfil the order?
With delivery, as with all other aspects of your online shop, try to put the customer in the centre of your thinking. You need to have a process that can operate within your business, but first and foremost it must be customer friendly.
STEP 5 – Agree Shipping Costs
Another key difference between buying in your store and ordering online is that shipping has to be handled. We are all very familiar with shipping options on the top online websites. Customers expect to have clear, reasonable shipping options available to them. These need to be clear, simple and never come as a surprise during checkout.
Shipping can be complex – different products sizes, different weights, different destinations; but you cannot make this the customer’s problem.
A few typical scenarios that people will understand:
- Flat Rate Shipping
This is very common, depending on your location you will pay a set fee for shipping.
- Free Shipping
If economically feasible, this is a big help in encouraging customers to buy online. It is very typical to see free shipping offered once order values exceed a set amount.
- Express Shipping
It is perfectly reasonable with some products to offer a faster delivery at a higher cost.
- Click & Collect
For local purchases, this can be an attractive option. The customer does not really have to wait or incur additional cost.
Again, my key point here is that shipping must be simple and not become a barrier to your customers making a purchase online. In most cases, you can get up and running quickly with suppliers like An Post, DPD or other couriers depending on your specific needs, products and costs.
STEP 6 – Determine Payment Processing
There are a myriad of options available for payment processing. If you are already taking credit card payments in-store, it is possible that your provider has an online option.
The fastest options to get up and running would be Paypal or Stripe which can both be setup is a very short space of time and can allow you to almost immediately accept payments online. If you are looking to get up and running quickly, I would recommend one of these to begin with. You can then review all options and costs based on your level of online transactions and easily switch to a different provider for the longer term.
STEP 7 – Test, Test and Test
When you think you are ready to go, you need to test the functionality of the site. If possible, get a number of employees or friends to help with the testing. It is possible to setup pricing, payment processing, cancellations etc. This will allow you and your team to go through the entire process from arriving on the site, searching products, right through the entire checkout process.
Ensure that your site is tested on Mobile as well as Desktop devices to ensure ease of use. If customers come to the site and have technical problems, it will be hard difficult to get them to return.
STEP 8 – Launch and Promote
Once all of the points above are taken care of, the next challenge is to launch your site and let your customers know. For businesses already in operation there is a big opportunity to let your “offline” customers know about your online facility.
Social Media is also a strong platform to help get your message out. Through your own social media channels as well as leveraging those of friends, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders, you can reach a large audience.
Some online promotion and/or special offers may also be considered to get users to your site, these could include:
- Paid Advertising on Social Media and/or Google
- Discount/Coupon for first online purchase
- Online Special Offers or Special product Bundles
- Email Marketing if you have an opted in contact list
- Content Marketing through Social Media and/or influencers
STEP 9 – Satisfy the Customer
The most successful online companies create a customer experience that gets people back again and again. At times it can be challenging to get someone to purchase online, but if their experience is good, they will come back again and again.
Effort should be taken to delight the customer through their online buying process. As noted above, this includes the shopping process by making the product selection, purchase, payment and shipping as easy as possible. It continues through ensuring that delivery happens when expected, products arrive and delight customer and where applicable the after sales process is a positive experience. Where possible the process should include steps to encourage the customer to engage with you through reviews, email newsletter, follow up offers, social media etc.
Building an online customer base will become a very valuable asset to your business over time.
ePRESENCE | DIGITAL MARKETING AGENCY IN CORK, IRELAND
Looking to sell online can be a daunting task, but as the saying goes “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. If you are considering that first step, we would be more than happy to discuss this with you and share our experience with no expectation or commitment. Simply get in touch and see if selling online is a good option for you.
John Brennan is director of ePresence Internet Marketing. He is an experienced management consultant, specialising in Digital Marketing, Business Development, Product Development and Innovation Management.
Owner/director of ePresence, John also lectures in Digital Advertising and Analytics at Cork Institute of Technology.
John has an Electronic Engineering Degree from Cork Institute of Technology, MBA from University College Cork and Executive Training at Kellogg Business School, Chicago.
Before setting up ePresence, John held various roles such as Software Engineer, Director of Engineering, Director of Product and Program Management, Vice President of Product Development and General Manager in world leading organisations such as Apple, IBM, Snap-on Inc. and FMC.
John combines his technology know-how, management experience and customer focus to help his clients achieve online success.