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Transitioning your brick & mortar store online

Perhaps before 2020 began, you’d been contemplating a move to take your business online. Either away from a physical space or in addition to your store.  These last few months may have been the final push you needed to make your decision. In order to keep your store open and allow a possibility for growth, now is the time to make the jump to include an online presence.  So….now what?

 ‘Going online’ sounds simple and feels like it shouldn’t take more than a few button clicks.  In reality, there are a number of decisions to be made and the first few of these actually take place offline.

Know your ideal customer – create a buyer persona

The items you sell or service you provide will give you a good starting point of who your ideal buyer is. Consider the age and gender of your average client, their interests, lifestyle, and salary. Are they likely to shop online or would they be more inclined to come to your store? Review your available data and see what insight it can provide you. For more help in making an informed decision – prepare a quick and simple survey (1-2 questions maximum) that customers can complete while making a purchase in your store.

Product Offering

If you sell physical goods, consider how they translate into being sold online.  You will have some cost savings for an online store – less overhead being one of them – the added expense of shipping may be new for you. Logistics make up a good chunk of the cost of goods, anywhere from 6 – 11 % by some estimates. Transportation and delivery costs are calculated by weight and dimensions of the item sold and that makes a huge difference if you’re selling tea bags or if you make hand-knitted area rugs. 

And now that many giant online retailers (thanks, Amazon!) offer free shipping, smaller stores need to find creative ways to stay competitive. People will quickly ‘x’ out of their browser window when they see they are paying $25.00 in shipping for an $11.00 item. You’ll need to find a way to keep your shipping costs in line before they become a deterrent for shoppers. 

An optional approach could be a staggered launch. Choose a selection of products – perhaps one specific line. Then, as the volume of sales increases and your experience grows, add additional products in stages. This would enable you to refine your online retail plan as you get feedback from your customers.

Choosing an online platform

One of the most important decisions is the platform you choose as the framework for your site.  Things to consider include; how customizable is it, does it offer integrations with your existing inventory systems? With your payment processing systems – are there monthly subscriptions or are they one-time setup costs? If you plan on growing your online presence, be sure to pick a platform that can scale without massive updating and a ton of work from your web development team.  

A vital component that cannot be overlooked is how you will handle online payments. Does your existing financial institution have a way to integrate into an online store or will you have to use a third party for the online portion of your business? There are many options available for accepting payments, just make sure that whomever you choose works with your existing system and lessens your workload instead of adding to it.

Over and above all these – your site must be mobile-friendly, or “responsive” as those in the know would say. People spend more than 50 percent of their time online on a mobile device (excluding tablets)* and BI Intelligence has forecast that m-commerce (shopping on a mobile device) will reach $284 billion, or 45 percent of the total U.S. e-commerce market this year.**   This is critical to include in your online plan – you need to be where your customers are.

The People Factor

Depending on the size of the online store you plan to have and inventory you’ll carry, you will need to either hire additional staff or reassign existing ones into new roles. There be work in fulfilling and shipping the orders, but there will also be some man-hours for the front-end as well. Website maintenance, inventory control, and perhaps a help desk to answer emails and phone calls. 

Omnichannel Retail

One critical goal for any retailer is to provide an omnichannel retail experience. This means that a customer shopping on your site would have the same experience when they shop at your brick and mortar location.  A retail store revolves around the customer and you need to create a seamless, unified experience every time they shop with you, regardless of format. Creating this kind of experience for your shopper’s ties in greatly with the aspect of omnichannel marketing.

Omnichannel Marketing

Your overall marketing strategy needs to have one common voice. Your store and brand should have the same feel and personality across all platforms.  A traditional brick and mortar store could send out flyers, coupons, and personalized offers but an online marketing campaign has several more facets.  Personalized emails, social media posts on various platforms that invite engagement, discount codes and individual landing pages are all spokes in a wheel that create a truly unique and customized experience for the consumer.  

After all the work you’ve put into creating your online store, people need to find it. They need to know your site exists and what you offer.  In today’s crowded online world, a savvy and attention-grabbing marketing campaign will need to be included in your launch. This is one puzzle piece you cannot forget.

Final Thoughts

One element that can’t be reproduced online is the physical experience of being in your store. The human connection we’re all missing these days is one of the hardest parts of the new way we now live.  Going shopping was something that seemed so ordinary and now it’s one of the things we miss most. It shows how important the experience needs to be!

Large brands today have the resources to create seamless and frictionless experiences for consumers. Smaller businesses can achieve this on their own scale by putting great planning and thought into how they set up their online stores, how they create their customer experience, and how well they unify their physical store with their online one. 

Moving online does not have to be scary, it can be a lot of fun. With a well thought out approach, you will be amazed at the interaction you can get with your customers, and how you can foster a sense of community within your social channels. Invite them in to see you, your brand and your store, and you will create brand advocates who shop with you time and again…and bring their friends along for the ride.

*Source: Statista


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