In this era of unprecedented uncertainty, more brick and mortar businesses are transitioning into an online space to maintain their custom in an age of social distancing and global lockdowns.
But for some companies, the task of moving online is easier said than done. It’s not enough to simply have an online presence, if your retail store had only enjoyed a local reputation before the damaging arrival of COVID-19, you may struggle to become discoverable to the new customers you need to survive.
The effects of the pandemic have drastically altered the lives of just about everybody worldwide, but even when life returns to normal and businesses are able to open up in physical locations just like in days of yore, there are likely to be sweeping changes to the way people work, interact and shop.
Remote work is here to stay in some industries, and this will heavily affect the flow of shoppers present in brick and mortar stores. The era of the ‘New Normal’ may indeed be a difficult one for more traditional retail stores.
However, despite the online marketplace being a competitive one, there’s still plenty of space for an outlet with a solid business model to thrive. Here are some vital tips in transitioning your brick and mortar store online and getting your endeavour off the ground:
Find Yourself a Platform
There’s a big reason why this is the first and most important part of your transition from brick and mortar dwellings to an online selling space: finding the right platform means you can find a comfortable working environment.
You’ll no doubt be missing your physical store, so finding an online space that makes you feel comfortable is important in order to quickly familiarise yourself your new surroundings.
When it comes to finding a platform in which to operate you have two main options. You can either sell on an existing platform or make your own. For example, platforms like Etsy and eBay are gigantic networks that have millions of users regularly making purchases from verified sellers and outlets. While you admittedly surrender some of the control of your processes by operating on an existing platform, you’ll have no problem when it comes to showcasing your wares to a vast sea of new prospective customers.
While moving to an existing selling platform could be ideal if you have little experience of running websites, building your own eCommerce site is certainly the most comprehensive option available when moving online. By utilising eCommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento or Wix, you can design and build your online shop and modify it to suit your target audience.
For added customisation, there are plenty of external themes and plugins available to make your store stand out from the crowd, and it’s even possible to implement additional features that can help your customer service model, like Chatbots.
Of course, be sure to factor in the cost of running your website or the level of commission that comes with joining existing platforms for selling your products. It’s important to ensure that you have a solid and well-factored cash flow forecast in place for each option when it comes to adopting platforms.
Figure Out How You’ll Take Payment
One of the most important things to do when setting up your online store involves figuring out how you’ll actually take payments. This step can be easily overlooked when companies move online, but adopting a good payment processor and merchant account can work wonders in avoiding the loss of sales for avoidable reasons.
While this process is often built into platforms like eBay and Etsy, if you’re going it alone online you’ll likely need to find a payment processor that keeps transaction costs down. Adopting Authroize.net and Paymentech can help bring cheaper rates but they can take time to set up.
At this stage, it’s worth considering your audience. Across the world, different countries favour different payment methods. In the UK, nearly a third of shoppers make payments on digital wallets today, but in Malaysia, it’s far more common for bank debits and transfers to take place.
Work to accommodate payment methods that customers would want to use when selling your goods. Effective and resourceful processors supplied by PayPal and Stripe can be exceptionally good in dealing with Apple Pay purchases as well as more commonplace card transactions.
Consider Your Shipping
Another key consideration to make involves manoeuvring the product from your warehouse to the homes of buyers. This process is more convoluted than simply selling an item over a physical counter.
Again, there are two ways in which you can approach shipping and order fulfilment. The first is to take on the task yourself and ship each sale manually. This can be perfectly viable if you sell smaller items, or sustain yourself with irregular, more expensive sales.
The second and most viable approach for larger stores is to leverage a third-party who can warehouse, pack and dropship orders directly to the door of customers on your behalf. This process can be simplified by choosing providers that are capable of integrating into your eCommerce platform that can offer users a range of different shipping options in a matter of clicks. One of the market leaders in this respect is ShipperHQ. Naturally, in the age of Coronavirus, it’s also advisable to ensure that you sanitise your products and packaging before their dispatch.
Utilise Social Media to Build Your Presence
Now that you’ve figured out how best to take your first steps online, it’s time to promote your newly established online business. Social media today is akin to what newspaper ads were to businesses in the 20th Century.
As the chart above shows, audiences on social media can range into the billions. This means that there is a vast network of potential customers for you to appeal to.
You don’t have to be an SEO master to operate a successful business social media account, but if you’re active enough to showcase your products and use the right keywords – maybe even add comments to emerging trends – you can build a trustworthy and recognisable brand from scratch for customers online.
While transitioning to an online store may seem like a scary prospect for you and your business, if you’re able to appeal to a new audience, it could be the perfect opportunity to scale up your company and enjoy a brand new revenue stream amidst an uncertain landscape.