The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the importance of being able to sell online and has resulted in the speedier adoption of fully integrated eCommerce websites. Many believe now that if you are not online, you are cutting yourself off from key sales opportunities.
But we have seen first-hand the opportunities and challenges eCommerce solutions can bring to a business.
For anyone embarking on this journey, we would suggest you treat it with the same respect and diligence as you would with a decision to open up a new physical branch or outlet.
Here, we’re covering eight things to think about when launching an online store, from delivering a great customer experience to choosing the right eCommerce software.
Worth a read: How to avoid an e-Commerce integration disaster
1. First Things First – The Key Requirements of an eCommerce Website
Before you take your business online, you need to be familiar with the basic requirements of an effective eCommerce store. What should you consider? And which features and services should you prioritise as part of your service offering?
Let’s take a look at some of the key questions you should ask yourself when setting up your eCommerce website.
- Where will I locate my shop? – Are you aiming to open this ‘outlet’ at the back of your house or in the main street of a large town. Your ‘domain name’ serves as your address so purchasing one that reflects what you do, and your target audience is key e.g., if selling in Ireland or the UK, ‘www.yourcompanyname.ie’ or www.yourcompanyname.co.uk might work (especially if what you sell is described in your company name).
- What am I stocking in my shop? – Are you putting your entire stock database online or a select number of products? Not all products will be profitable so it is worth taking the time to assess which product lines will drive the most revenue for you.
- What price am I charging online? – Do you offer a special online rate? What price should existing traditional customers expect to pay? Will they get their special prices and terms?
- Who pays for shipping? – Is there a standard shipping rate? Are you going to offer free shipping and include the cost in your pricing?
- How will I accept payments? – There are a number of online payment services available, but they all come with their benefits and drawbacks. Some charge per transaction and others on a percentage basis. Opening a ‘Merchant Account’ with one of these can be time consuming and needs to be planned well ahead of the launch or opening.
- How are the goods packed and delivered? – Is there a solid warehouse process in place to handle the orders when they do come in? What happens in an ‘out of stock’ scenario? Do customers expect fast delivery and, if so, what systems do you need in place to facilitate this?
- What about ‘Returns’? – A process needs to be in place for handling returned goods and refunds. A higher percentage of returns should be anticipated from an online environment.
- How are you going to promote your new shop? – THIS IS THE BIG ONE! If you were opening a new physical outlet, you would consider all sorts of advertising and promotion to gain footfall through your door. The EXACT same, if not more, is needed to get traffic to your website.
There are numerous ways of doing this, but each will take a significant investment both in terms of time and money:
- SEO:Search Engine Optimisation – is your website optimised to increase its visibility on search engines?
- PPC: Pay Per Click – paid-for advertising at the top of Google rankings. Pricey, but can be effective when optimised effectively.
- Digital PR: get your brand’s name in front of new customers with a clever PR strategy.
- Social Media:depending on your target market, this may play a major part in your promotion – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
- Traditional Marketing:use traditional marketing methods such as printed media, leaflet drops and in-store promotions to direct traffic to your website
- Measure, measure, measure:make sure that you are on top of the game in terms of measuring key indicators for your online business, including unique visitors, time spent on site, Google ranking and keyword analysis.
2. Understand the Needs of Customer Service in an Online Retail Space
Delivering customer service online is a different proposition than in person. With fewer opportunities for personal interaction, maintaining your usual standards of customer service and care can be challenging.
It’s good practice to develop a customer service strategy for your online business. Detailing how you’ll approach every type of customer interaction; a formal strategy can help you deliver consistent service whether you’re responding to questions or complaints.
3. Invest in eCommerce Software
Finding the right eCommerce software is crucial in guaranteeing the success of your online store. The right platform should make listing and selling products, managing your inventory, handling transactions and fulfilling orders easy.
When it comes to choosing eCommerce software, there are lots of options available. From fully-integrated B2B and B2C eCommerce solutions that automatically update your back-office system to simple plug-and-play solutions.
But if you are thinking of trading online, you need to decide whether your eCommerce site should adopt a ‘zero’ or ‘high’ level of integration with your business system. The more integrated it is, the more seamless it will be, and the fewer misalignments that are likely to occur.
Seek advice from a trusted expert, and take the time to consider your route to online trading very carefully.
4. Consider All Types of Users
Just as it’s important to ensure a physical store is accessible by all, your eCommerce site should be equally as friendly for all types of users and customers. Whether you already have a website, are considering an upgrade to facilitate online selling or venturing online for the first time, consider your website’s usability; what key things should you account for to ensure all-round accessibility?
Firstly, make sure your site is optimised for users on different devices, including desktop and mobile. You should also think about how customers interact with your current site, if you have one; does the current structure of the site make for a rewarding and intuitive customer experience?
5. Encourage Repeat Custom
Attracting new customers to make a purchase on your online store is, of course, a priority for your business. But don’t forget to invest time and resources in securing repeat custom from existing clients.
Repeat custom has one major benefit over new: reduced lead cost. Consider that for every new customer you secure, you have to factor in the cost of marketing, which isn’t the case for returning patrons already familiar with your brand.
There are lots of ways to encourage repeat custom online. Remarketing ads is one, but there are cheaper means too, including email signups and social media interactions.
Additionally, make it easier for your B2B customers to do business with you by offering a self-service online customer account portal. This is a must if you want to encourage repeat ordering whilst also providing a quicker and easier route to selling online.
6. Nail Your Delivery and Returns Experience
In the age of Amazon – wherein customers expect lightning-fast delivery speeds, and no-quibble returns policies – it’s vital that you offer an equally competitive and convenient service. High delivery costs and charged returns are likely to put off potential customers, so it’s important to come up with a logistics strategy which meets customer expectations whilst keeping your operations profitable.
And it isn’t just speed and cost you need to consider. Attractive, recyclable packaging is also vital in generating brand advocacy. Because in a world of influencers and ‘unboxing’ videos, a brand’s image is important at every stage of the customer journey.
7. Build Trust
This brings us neatly to our next point, which is all about fostering trust with your customers. Building a trusted brand is more challenging in an online setting, with visible reviews and testimonials exposing the attributes (and, possibly, pitfalls) of your business to a large audience.
Trust isn’t something you can earn in a day. It’s a long process, whereby every interaction can impact how your brand is perceived and approached by potential customers and clients.
8. Continue to Upgrade and Refine Your eCommerce Site
The world of online retail is hugely competitive, with constant market disruption from emerging start-ups and rapidly changing trends. As such, you need to refine, upgrade and invest in your eCommerce offering regularly, ensuring that it continues to deliver for the needs of your business and your customers.
And don’t forget, there are many options available today that don’t necessarily involve a full eCommerce solution and are worth investigating. For instance, an online customer account portal with repeat ordering capabilities is an alternative way to increase revenue.
It’s a quicker and easier option to implement as well as more cost-effective than a fully integrated eCommerce site that takes time and resources to produce results.
Want to find out more about selling online. Read our eBook ‘Selling Online’. It has all you need to know