Adding an online store may help traditional retailers increase sales and, ultimately, grow and improve. But transitioning from brick and mortar to brick and click will not be without problems.
There are plenty of good reasons for small stores and boutiques to open ecommerce-enabled shops, not the least of which is the continued growth of online shopping and online product discovery.
In fact, according to a survey from Wipro Digital, a research firm, released in January 2015, about 61 percent of Americans shopped online during the 2014 holiday season, up from just 36 percent for the 2013 Christmas season.
…about 61 percent of Americans shopped online during the 2014 holiday season, up from just 36 percent for the 2013 Christmas season.
Better prices, convenience, and ease of use are all factors in the growth of online sales, according to the Wipro survey.
Entrepreneurs and business innovators sometimes say there is value in knowing what you don’t know. What they mean is that if you understand where there might be gaps or weaknesses in your business plan or project, you can prepare for those areas, investing time or money to improve your chance of success.
Conversely, not knowing what you don’t know about a new project — like opening an online store — can be dangerous to your business since you might stumble into some expensive mistakes.
When an established retailer with a physical store starts to sell online, there can be a few surprises. Here are seven things you should think about when you add “click” to your physical retail business.
1. Managing Inventory Will Be Difficult
Inventory management for a single, physical store requires a fair amount of work. The store should plan for peak seasons, making certain there will be enough products to sell when customers are ready to buy without over-investing in inventory that is simply gathering dust in the stockroom.
Then there are vendor lead times, terms, minimum orders, and other requirements to manage.
Nearly all of these become more complicated when a store adds one or more additional sales channels. For example, a store could sell out the entire inventory of an item either in-store or online, so that shoppers in the other channel are unhappy.
To help avoid these sorts of issues, consider using an inventory or order management system that tracks inventory at both the physical and ecommerce point of sale.
2. Planning Your Online Store Is Like Planning a Physical Store
When adding ecommerce to an existing retail business, think of the online store like a new retail location.
If you were opening a new, physical retail location, you’d think about how to decorate the store, how to present products, how to attract new customers, how you would staff the shop, how you’d take payments, and much more. It would be similar to preparing a full business plan.
3. You’ll Need a Marketing Strategy
One of the most important parts of ecommerce success is marketing. So when you open an online store, you will need a marketing strategy.
Also, remember that ecommerce marketing includes tactics on your site — like content marketing, product merchandising, and site structure — tactics in free channels including social media, and paid tactics like pay-per-click advertising. You’ll want to know which of these tactics to use, how much to invest in each, and how to determine if your marketing is successful.
4. You’ll Need Compelling Pictures
In a physical store, shoppers can pick up an item, feel its texture, and get a sense of the product. Online, products are primarily presented with photographs, so you will need good ones.
In fact, every product you sell online will need at least one good-quality photograph. It will likely be relatively hard and time consuming to obtain from the product’s manufacturers or distributors.
If you want to sell online, you will need to learn about taking good pictures and processing those pictures for display in your online shop.
Here are some examples of high-quality product photography.
5. Websites Cost Money, Time, or Both
There are many ecommerce platforms that advertise the ability to have a functional ecommerce site up and running in essentially no time for very little money. There is a sense in which these claims are true. But in most cases, the site launched is horrible and unlikely to lead you to ecommerce success.
Having a successful ecommerce website takes time, money, or both. You will either need to spend some serious time researching ecommerce platforms, understanding site layout, figuring out content management, or you will need to hire someone to build your site and show you how to manage it.
Taking shortcuts will lead to a lot of problems. For example, there is at least one major, software-as-a-service ecommerce platform that won’t allow stores to sell used products. If you have a vintage clothing shop, you might inadvertently choose this ecommerce platform, send a few hours building a site, and only then learn that you cannot sell your products at all.
Invest in your website if you want your ecommerce shop to succeed.
6. Shipping Is Expensive
When a customer buys something from a physical store, she picks that item up and carries it out the door.
When a customer buys something online, you will need to ship it to her, and shipping is very expensive. In fact, the cost of packaging and shipping products may be one of the most stunning parts of opening an ecommerce store.
Take time to plan your shipping. Make certain your site provides real shipping estimates. Use shipping or order fulfillment software to help select the right carrier for each package. Also, try to look at shipping on a general basis and not order-by-order. There will likely be times when you lose money on a given order because of the cost of shipping.
7. Be Patient
Building a successful online business takes a lot of time. And adding ecommerce to an existing retail business probably won’t boost sales significantly overnight. Be patient.