This is a guest post by Beatriz Estay from BigCommerce.
Selling offline is all good until you hit a roadblock.
Maybe your business is impacted by an emergency or disaster.
Maybe all of your competitors are moving online.
Or maybe your customers simply have a newfound preference for online shopping.
Pairing your brick and mortar with an online store is key.
While each channel has perks on its own — together, they create a winning business strategy as their shared perks work together to create quantifiable success.
For online retail — sales are expected to reach nearly $600 billion by 2024.
In the last decade, business owners have been sunsetting offline retail and launching ecommerce stores.
But, here’s the harsh truth: ecommerce isn’t a backup plan. You simply can’t trade one experience for the other.
Take Pier 1 Imports or Sears, as an example. Both businesses ultimately declared bankruptcy after failed (and costly) attempts to shift from offline to online retail.
Instead of cutting ties with your proven-successful, traditional commerce model, simply pair it with something new.
The exciting truth is that combining online and offline retail efforts in your business plan has the power to amplify reach and sales. Think of it as another stream of revenue for your existing stores — or a back-up plan if your customers are unable to purchase on a specific channel.
If you’re thinking about boosting up your ecommerce business, or are ready to begin selling online, we want to help. You can get three free months of BigCommerce to build your new online store. If you’re new to ecommerce, not to worry — Vend and BigCommerce can help you get set up. Learn More
Ecommerce Sales Are Growing
Ecommerce is growing — and it’s growing fast.
In the US alone, ecommerce revenue is expected to grow by 10.4% by 2024, with China following close behind at 8.4% growth.
With steep growth continuing, 2020 is a great time to enter the online space.
Advantages of Adding Ecommerce to Your Brick-and-Mortar
Depending on your business needs, there may be many different reasons to add an ecommerce layer to your business. Here are my top five reasons why you should consider adding ecommerce.
1. Track customers to know what they really want.
Imagine having direct access to your customers’ purchasing behaviors.
What products are they looking at? What are they actually converting on?
How many days does the customer journey typically take?
Entering the online space gives you answers to many burning questions about your business. Not only can you learn from these insights, but make real-time changes to your store.
This will help improve your customers’ experience with you, ultimately leading to more brand loyalty and affinity.
2. Improve customer loyalty and experience.
Quite a nice segue, right? But, it’s true — entering the online space improves customer loyalty and experience.
First off, being online adds convenience to your customers’ daily lives. They can engage with your business anytime, any place. This creates more opportunities for you to serve your customers with relevant, personalized content.
Think about extending your existing loyalty or rewards program to your online store with technology solutions like Privy, Yotpo, Marsello, etc. Perhaps you can give your customers added points for picking up items in store or offer online only discounts to members.
Selling online gives you an entirely new landscape to entertain and connect with your customers. Get creative when thinking about how you can merge your online and offline experience.
3. Competition is moving online.
It’s like playing the game ‘follow the leader’.
If you want skin in the game against your competitors, it’s important you keep up with the trends.
Right now, that’s expanding online.
Pay close attention to the experiences your competitors are serving up on the internet. How can you level up?
Creating an online presence will give you a fair shot at challenging your competitors.
Watch out world, the ecommerce competition is just beginning.
4. Speeds up the buying process.
As I mentioned above, being online allows your customers to engage with you any time, any place. This is especially helpful when customers may be unable to shop offline for any reason (for example, social distancing).
In turn, this speeds up the buying process. Once you’re online, here are a few ways you can optimize your store to quicken the customer journey:
- Optimize your internal site search (seriously, customers who use internal site search typically convert 5-6x more),
- Create a FAQ page to answer any and all questions customers may have (e.g. return policy, sizing guide, etc.),
- Offer an email opt-in for access to a newsletter or rewards program, or
- Reduce the amount of steps in the checkout process and implement cart abandonment alerts.
5. Engage customers of all generations.
In the first benefit to being online, we talked about having insider information on your customers’ behavior. This includes demographics!
While your business may thrive in a particular age demographic, selling online expands your reach which means you may discover customers from all generations.
The beauty of ecommerce is that you can create personalized experiences for every customer. Take advantage of your customer insights to welcome new generations to your business.
Ecommerce Complements Brick-and-Mortar
We’ve walked through the perks of being online, but you may be wondering, how does that go hand-in-hand with my brick-and-mortar?
Here are three of my favorite advantages to an online and offline pairing.
1. Provide fast delivery service for local customers.
Convenience. Convenience. Convenience.
No longer are your customers forced into driving to your retail location to browse, purchase, and receive items.
With a mix of online and offline retail, you can:
- Offer a faster delivery option to local customers (and offer them an online tracking code),
- Offer buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) or curbside,
- Or allow customers to purchase items in store and have them shipped to their home.
2. Cross promote your physical and online stores.
Leverage your geographic data to discover where your customers are located.
Many stores offer an online option to ‘set your home store’ — making it easy to browse items based on local inventory.
In addition, you can drive customers to your brick-and-mortar with in-store events or exclusive promotions (and vice versa).
Creating a bond with your online and offline experiences will create a more seamless experience for your customers.
3. Offer a wider product selection online.
The reality is you may not be able to provide your entire inventory in store. However, an online store makes it easy to display your entire offering — perhaps even products that haven’t been released yet.
Leverage your online store to showcase all your business has to offer and your brick-and-mortar to give customers a chance to interact with your products in person.
Next Steps: Building Your Ecommerce Presence
Ready to launch your online store? Spoiler alert: it won’t happen overnight.
In order to begin selling online, you’ll need to check off a few items:
- Select an ecommerce platform.
- Design your online store.
- Build and optimize your product pages.
- Create a shipping and refund policy.
- Determine payment options.
- Look into security and tax details.
- Establish a marketing strategy.
Select an Ecommerce Platform
Not all ecommerce platforms are created equal. Every business has their individual needs, which means you’ll need to review each platform with your own considerations in mind. From a high level, here’s more detail on the leading ecommerce platforms.
BigCommerce is an open SaaS ecommerce platform for established and growing merchants. The company, based in Austin, Texas, offers 24/7 global support from a trained support team and advanced native functionality on all plans.
The ecommerce platform is no stranger to helping legacy brands come online. Listen to the story of BigCommerce customer, Lammes Candies, on their expansion from offline to online.
Our Bralette Club (also on Vend) is another great BigCommerce merchant. Their navigation makes it easy for customers to explore their products, learn about the brand, and get questions answered.
Shopify, another SaaS ecommerce platform, is based in Canada. The platform relies on many third-party apps to add in advanced functionality. While plans are comparable in price to BigCommerce, the use of third-party apps can send your costs skyrocketing.
Recently purchased by Adobe, Magento is an open source ecommerce platform that’s popular amongst enterprise clients. They offer both on-premise and cloud hosted options. This platform is definitely a more costly option. Even the cloud-hosted version is not SaaS — which means you’re looking at manual upgrades and other nuances.
Design Your Online Store
Once you choose your ecommerce platform, it’s time to design your online store! If you already have a brick-and-mortar, consider giving your online store a similar tone and feel.
1. Pick the perfect theme.
Choosing an ecommerce theme can feel overwhelming. The good news is many themes are customizable, so think of the theme as your foundation.
When choosing a theme, be mindful of what functionality it comes with. Depending on your industry and company, you may require specific features, such as:
- Responsive ecommerce.
- Product page functionality (e.g. cross sell and upsell capabilities).
- Auto-updated shopping cart.
- A beautiful, modern, and clean design.
- Mobile optimization.
- Customization options (e.g. page builder, add-ons, translation ready).
2. Think of the user experience.
How will your customers navigate your site? Do you have many SKUs? A complicated ordering process?
When mapping out your user experience, be mindful of the existing customer journey. How can online design improve any current pain points?
Build and Optimize Your Product Pages
Product pages are crucial to your online store. This is where customers learn about and explore your products. Don’t forget to address this criteria when designing your product pages.
1. Use impressive product photos.
If it ain’t pretty to look at, your customers won’t buy it.
High-quality photos are essential to impressing your customers.
In addition, offer different views of the product. For example, if you sell clothing, showcase photos from different angles, so the customer can envision themselves wearing the product.
2. Provide detailed product content.
In this day and age of ecommerce, transparency is everything.
Let your customers know what fabric was used, the origin of the product, how it fits, how it’s built, or how it tastes. Detailed product content offers your customers the information they need to make a quick purchasing decision.
3. Increase trust with customer reviews and ratings.
User-generated content offers an added level of transparency and a “third-party” opinion. Showcasing customer reviews and ratings allows customers to gain insight from fellow users on their experience with your product.
Plus, customer reviews give your business an opportunity to learn more about the experience you’re serving up.
Create a Shipping and Refund Policy
Your customers convert with you — hooray! In traditional retail, the journey for most ends here.
But, the online journey doesn’t. Create a shipping and refund policy, so your customers know what to expect. This requires strong alignment between the inventory on your website and your warehouse or third-party logistics (3PL) fulfillment service. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to protect your business from any unwanted spending or legal conflicts.
Determine payment options.
In the age of convenience, consumers expect merchants to offer flexible payment options.
This means offering different ways to pay, like via credit card, PayPal or Apple Pay.
When it comes to payment options, you may also want to consider using an ecommerce merchant account — especially if you sell across various channels (e.g. brick and mortar) — as many merchant accounts come with a Point-of-Sale system.
Lastly, make sure you have an accounting software ready to use. This will help you keep inventory and payments organized.
Look into security and tax details.
Understanding how your ecommerce store is secured is crucial. When choosing an ecommerce platform, make sure that security is near the top of your list for must-haves. More specifically, be on the lookout for PCI compliant hosting and DDOS protection.
In addition, you’ll want to clearly understand what taxes apply to purchases (and to your business). If you are selling cross-border, make sure you understand how cross-border commerce will operate with your online business.
Establish a marketing strategy.
In order to achieve increased conversion — you’ll need customers!
Building a robust marketing strategy for your business will enable you to leverage existing traffic to your site while obtaining new customers. While marketing strategies may differ depending on your budget, industry or stage of growth, aim to have these essentials integrated:
- Email marketing (including abandoned cart notifications),
- SEO optimization,
- Social media marketing, and
- High quality product imagery and details.
Online and offline retail — the two are simply better together.
Remember, when navigating the journey to selling online, pay close attention to your business needs and what your ecommerce platform can offer.
If you’re thinking about boosting up your ecommerce business, or are ready to begin selling online, we want to help. You can get three free months of BigCommerce to build your new online store. If you’re new to ecommerce, not to worry — Vend and BigCommerce can help you get set up.
Author Bio: Beatriz is a Small Business Content Marketing Specialist at BigCommerce and the fashion and lifestyle influencer behind The Letter Bea, an Austin, Texas based blog. She holds a B.A. in Communication and Sociology/Anthropology from Lake Forest College and specializes in ecommerce, marketing and merchandising strategies, influencer and branding work, and social media. When she’s not curating content, Beatriz loves to travel the world, share her journey with Type 1 Diabetes, and find Austin’s most Instagram friendly spots.
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.